Basic Questions

Technology-based, reproducible, and variable, media art poses unique challenges for the exhibitor. Exhibition strategies and standards for media art are constantly in flux as artistic practices evolve, technology develops, and viewing contexts change. However, one can identify basic professional protocols, guidelines, and definitions that will assist in ensuring that video artworks are exhibited with respect for the artists and the integrity of the works, whether they are part of a major museum exhibition or a cinematic screening. Sometimes the most fundamental questions are the most important ones to ask. What kinds of playback and display equipment are recommended? What is the preferred format for exhibiting video in a gallery and why? What format is best for a theatrical screening? And what do you really mean when you say "single-channel video"? The answers to these and the other basic but crucial questions below might be seen as a starting point for demystifying the process.

Why shouldn't I exhibit or screen a VHS tape?

Despite being a widely available consumer standard, VHS is simply not a high quality format and should not be considered for exhibiting artists' video works. VHS does not adequately serve the artist, the artist's work, or the exhibitor. In particular, when a VHS tape is projected, the integrity of the image is substantially compromised; the 1/2" tape capacity does not support enough "information" to sustain magnification. VHS is also very susceptible to damage during repeated playback.

Do artists have specific exhibition or equipment requirements?

Many artists conceive media works in which the presentation mode is integral to the work. In such cases, the artist may identify specific requirements for how the work must be presented. These requirements may range from issues of display (for example, a work must be shown on a monitor, or may only be projected) to what formats can be used for exhibition. When acquiring media works, whether from the artist, a distributor, or gallery, it is important to inquire about such requirements, so that the works can be presented as the artist intended. If guidelines are not provided, the exhibitor should consider the intent of the work, as the decision to project it or show it on a particular monitor may alter its meaning.

How far in advance should I acquire video works for exhibition?

Exhibitors often make the mistake of waiting far too long before making arrangements to acquire media works for exhibitions. Most distributors and galleries must custom-make artists' media works for exhibitions, a process that might require weeks of preparation. (In the case of historical video works, preservation work must often be done before works can be exhibited.) Exhibition agreements and fees must be negotiated; often payment must be received in advance of shipping. Keeping all this in mind, exhibitors should arrange to receive works far enough in advance to preview and test them on their exhibition equipment, leaving ample time to make changes before the exhibition opens. In the early stages of exhibition planning, exhibitors should research how much lead time distributors, galleries, artists, or other loan sources require. (For example, EAI requires that works be ordered at least five weeks in advance of the desired date of receipt.)

Should I order back-up copies?

Media-based art works are subject to wear and tear and image degradation if played repeatedly for an extended time. Back-up copies are recommended for exhibitions that extend for more than a month, particularly if one is using relatively fragile formats such as DVD. Typically one arranges in advance with the distributor, artist, or gallery to acquire back-up copies for a negotiated fee that reflects technical costs.

What's the difference between "NTSC" and "PAL"?

NTSC and PAL are the two main video broadcast standards or systems; they are incompatible with one another. Developed in 1953 in the U.S., NTSC (the acronym for National Television System Committee) is the video standard used in North America and Japan. NTSC videocassettes and DVDs are only playable on equipment that supports this standard. NTSC displays 525 lines of information at 60 half-frames (interlaced) per second. PAL stands for Phase Alternating Line and is the dominant television standard in most of the world, including Europe. PAL delivers 625 lines of information at 50 half-frames per second, which typically results in a higher-quality image. PAL videocassettes and DVDs are playable only on PAL equipment. (A third, much less common format is SECAM [Séquentiel Couleur Avec Mémoire], which was engineered in France.) Multi-standard playback devices can read all international formats.

What's the difference between Standard Definition, and High Definition?

Standard-definition television or SDTV refers to television systems that have a resolution that meets standards but not considered high definition. VHS tapes, DVDs, Betacam SP, DigiBeta, and DVCAM, are all standard definition formats. High-Definition television (HDTV) refers to the broadcasting of television signals with a higher resolution than traditional formats (NTSC, SECAM, PAL) allow. HDTV is broadcast digitally, and therefore its introduction sometimes coincides with the introduction of digital television (DTV): this technology was first introduced in the USA during the 1990s, by the Digital HDTV Grand Alliance. HDTV is defined as 1080 active interlaced lines, or 720 progressive lines. 16 : 9 aspect ratio in ITU-R BT.709. The term "high-definition" can refer to the resolution specifications themselves, or to media capable of similar sharpness such as motion picture film.

How do I obtain still images for my exhibition catalogue?

Often the rights to reproduce images from an artist's media work are managed by a specific agency or representative and retain certain restrictions or conditions. In addition, often the artist has selected specific images to represent his or her work in exhibition catalogues and brochures. Inquiries about obtaining and reproducing still images should be directed to the artist or the designated representative (distributor, gallery) to identify the appropriate procedure.

Can I show these works on the Internet?

The short answer is "no." Most artists, distributors, and galleries will not allow Webcasting of video art works in order to protect the copyright interests of artists and to restrict unlicensed public presentations.

Can I tour my video exhibition?

Most exhibition or license agreements provide exhibition rights for the originating institution or venue only. If you wish to tour your exhibition, you will need to negotiate a specific advance agreement with the artist, gallery or distributor, which outlines the terms and conditions of the tour. Additional rental or loan fees will apply.