Case Study: Video Acts

Video Acts: Single Channel Works from the Collections of Pamela and Richard Kramlich and New Art Trust
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York
November 10, 2002 - April 13, 2003

Video Acts was an exhibition of performance-based single-channel video from the collections of Pamela and Richard Kramlich and New Art Trust. The exhibition took place at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York, from November 10, 2002 through April 13, 2003. The 134 works in this major exhibition spanned the mid-1960s through 1998 and demonstrated an ongoing relationship between video and performance.

Among the artists represented in the exhibition were Marina Abramovic/Ulay, Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Dara Birnbaum, Peter Campus, VALIE EXPORT, Dan Graham, Gary Hill, Joan Jonas, Paul McCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Tony Oursler, Pipilotti Rist, Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, and William Wegman.

The exhibition was unique not only in its scale—134 historical works by 24 artists—but also in its exhibition strategy: each of the works was presented continuously and simultaneously on a separate monitor or as a projection. The exhibition was also notable for its depth of representation of certain artists.

Video Acts was organized by Klaus Biesenbach, then P.S.1 Chief Curator (currently Chief Curator of the Media Department at The Museum of Modern Art, New York), with Barbara London, Curator in the Media Department at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Christopher Eamon, Curator of the Kramlich Collection and Director of New Art Trust. All of the works were selected from the collection of video works in the Kramlich and New Art Trust collections in San Francisco.

A 312-page catalogue of the exhibition included essays by Biesenbach, London, and Eamon, and interviews with Abramovic, Acconci and Jonas. A smaller version of the exhibition traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), London, in 2003.

Describing the exhibition's distinctive design and strategy, Klaus Biesenbach commented, "We were working exclusively with single-channel video, but we were showing a lot of works, and we basically tried to show each work on a separate playing device, projected or on a monitor. So we were simultaneously and continuously showing all of the works. Each of the works was looped on its own screen, which was very important, because it was about the performative idea of the work.

"You could experience the works wherever you decided to put your focus. You were not directed by a screening schedule, with one work that starts at 3:45 and the next at 3:50, etc. You could freely move between the works, and that was a very important aspect of the show from a display point of view….

"We were thinking of the idea of a library. So it was like a workstation. It emphasized that it was nearly an archival report, showing as many of these works as possible.…We didn't create a movie theatre, we created almost a mediatheque. It was hopefully viewer-friendly, but we tried to accommodate something that would express both the archival nature of curatorially going through so many works and presenting so many works, but also allow for the works to be viewed in private and with integrity. So we had headphones, we had benches, we had books. We tried to merge all these different aspects that sometimes seemed difficult to connect, and I felt that this display succeeded in that."

According to Christopher Eamon, "It was a very simple idea: treat each thing on its own, which, at the time of its making, it was. The exhibition had such a profound effect; it was like a school or like a museum. And everyone could visit it over and over again and pick and choose, and have a whole course on early performance video.

"The real interesting thing, though, is that there's a reason that it hadn't been done before on that scale: it's incredibly expensive to do it that way. It was not a cheap exhibition. Multiply the costs of high-quality DVD presentation by 134 works. And then you have the playback equipment and the monitors. So that's two more things multiplied by 134.

"We [New Art Trust] made a huge commitment to work that is mostly distribution material. ...The amount put into it was many times the value of what that work is worth in financial terms, like maybe five times. But it was really a joy, and culturally important. A show like that-it should be the trumping feature, whether a show is culturally important."

Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection

Pamela and Richard Kramlich hold one of the world's largest private collections of video and new media art. They first began collecting video-based art in the early 1990s. The Kramlichs' holdings today include over 60 installations and 100 related photographs, paintings, and objects. The collection also includes over 200 single-channel video works, many of which are seminal pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. The media-based installations include video as well as other projected or moving-image media (including slides and film installations) from the 1960s to the present.

The Kramlich collection includes early pieces by important figures such as Vito Acconci, Dara Birnbaum, Dan Graham, and Bruce Nauman, as well as works by leading contemporary artists including Matthew Barney, Stan Douglas, Steve McQueen, Mariko Mori, and Jeff Wall. Thirty media-based installations from the Kramlich collection were the focus of a major exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (October 1999-January 2000), titled Seeing Time: Selections from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art.

New Art Trust

The New Art Trust was founded in 1997 by the Kramlichs to advance the media arts through the support of research and scholarship in the field. New Art Trust has participated in the preservation and presentation of hundreds of significant time-based media works and has supported professional symposia in the area of preservation and conservation of media art, including the TechArcheology symposium at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2000. They have a partnership with Bay Area Video Coalition of San Francisco, the only nonprofit video and audio preservation center in the United States.

New Art Trust partnered with San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate Gallery in London to further develop public education and research related to the public presentation and long-term care of media art. Curators, conservators, registrars, and media technical managers from New Art Trust, MoMA, SFMOMA, and Tate formed the Matters in Media Arts consortium to establish best practice guidelines for care of time-based media works of art (for example, video, slide, film, audio, and computer-based installations). The first phase of this project focused on the loan process for media installations.

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of The Museum of Modern Art, is the oldest and second-largest nonprofit arts center in the United States solely devoted to contemporary art. Recognized as a defining force of the alternative space movement, P.S.1 stands out among major arts institutions for its cutting-edge approach to exhibitions and direct involvement of artists within a scholarly framework.

P.S.1 was founded in 1971 by Alanna Heiss. Today, P.S.1 operates two internationally acclaimed spaces for contemporary art: P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City and the Clocktower Gallery in Lower Manhattan, both of which contain museum-quality galleries and extensive studio facilities.

P.S.1 is devoted to the production, presentation, interpretation, and dissemination of the work of innovative artists in all media, fostering creativity and uninhibited artistic exploration. Its focus includes recognizing the work of emerging artists, placing disparate media into new and meaningful contexts, and defining alternative movements and endeavors.