Basic Questions

Media art installations can exist in a multiplicity of forms, from a two-channel video projection to a large-scale environment that incorporates digital media, sculptural objects, interactive computer devices, and ephemeral materials. Even with such variable conditions, collectors of contemporary art need not be intimidated by acquiring media installations. A number of fundamental issues specific to the conditions and attributes of media-based artworks are useful to clarify. What is a multi-channel installation? What is a synchronizer? What equipment is provided with the installation? How do I approach preservation of the media-based installations in my collection? The following questions provide a starting point for understanding the basics of collecting media art installations.

The Single-Channel Video, Computer Art and Preservation sections of this guide also feature information that is relevant to media art installation. Information in the Exhibition section will also be useful if you are planning to exhibit the works in your collection.

What is a media installation?

Media installations are works of art that situate moving-image media within specific scenarios, built structures, sites, or viewing environments. Since the 1960s, artists have been integrating media such as film, video, and slides with objects and sculptural elements. More recent installations incorporate digital moving images and computer-based interactive devices.

What is a multi-channel video installation?

A multi-channel video installation consists of two or more display devices, such as monitors or projectors, used in the same work of art, in the same viewing space. The viewing space may be expanded to multiple monitors throughout an entire museum, or two projections situated side-by-side or overlapping. Multi-channel works range from classic early video pieces, such as Vito Acconci's Remote Control (1971), which includes two monitors and two video sources, to more recent works, such as Christian Marclay's Video Quartet (2002), a four-channel video projection.

What is a synchronizer or control system?

It is typical for installations with two or more playback devices to be linked with a synchronizer, which ensures that all the programs begin, end, and repeat at the appropriate intervals, prescribed by the artist. Synchronizers can also be incorporated into control systems, which are either stand-alone devices or computers that send the same pre-programmed commands a synchronizer can send, but can also be used to control lights, motorized screens, and other electronic elements depending on the installation. It is possible with some installations to have all of the video programs stored on a hard disc or computer-based device that also acts as the synchronizer. Audio for multi-channel installations ranges from mono, stereo, or multi-channel to 5.1 surround sound or a combination of configurations.

How much space is needed for an installation?

It is important to determine what the minimum space requirements are and the specifications with regard to viewing conditions. Confirm that the space in which you plan to present the work is large enough for the intended scale, and that lighting conditions, walls, floors, ceilings, and other environmental factors are discussed prior to the acquisition and installation. Ambient light typically washes out projected images, and is usually of greatest concern at the entrance of the space. Light lock entrances or other solutions may be necessary. Painting, carpeting, and building-out of spaces may be necessary depending on the work. The lighting, carpet, paint and other elements are considered elements of the installation, and should be considered carefully and meet the specifications outlined by the artist or artist's representative.

Does the installation have sound? If so, what are the specifications?

Sound, while extremely important, is often the forgotten variable of media-based work. When acquiring a media installation with a sound component, be sure to ask detailed questions regarding the presentation of the sound element. (How loud it is expected to be? What kind of equipment is required?) It is also important to consider how the sound will affect other works in the exhibition space, how it might distract from viewing other work, and how two or more works containing sound will interact with one another. When installing, sound absorption materials and carpeting might be necessary. Careful execution when building presentation spaces can help to create a well separated space. Headphones are not a common practice in most media installation designs, but might be suitable in some instances.

What are the recommended formats for collecting the media elements within installation works?

The media associated with multi-channel video works should be acquired on an archival format such as Beta SP or Digital Beta. An exhibition copy on a suitable exhibition format such as DVD may also be requested as part of an acquisition. For a discussion of recommended formats specific to video, please visit Single-Channel Equipment & Technical Issues. For born digital and interactive elements, please visit Computer-Based Equipment & Technical Issues.

What is a "certificate of authenticity"?

A "certificate of authenticity" typically accompanies the purchase of a unique artwork. The certificate, signed by the artist and gallerist, is a means to identify authentic works. This document is necessary for resale of the work in the secondary market.

How should I store the media-based works in my collection?

Media installations often include video-based, digital, and/or equipment elements. The preservation community has established recommended storage conditions for each of these categories. For example, the best long-term storage temperature for videotape is approximately 50°F at 25% relative humidity, with little fluctuation. The Preservation Best Practices section of this Guide details storage recommendations for magnetic videotape, born digital elements, and equipment that when followed will significantly prolong the life of the media elements in any collection.

Can I loan or tour works in my collection?

Most sale contracts and agreements accompanying media installations acquired from a gallery provide exhibition and lending rights for the collector. Not all contracts offer the same rights, so it is best to contact the gallery if you have questions about the limitations of the acquisition.