Read This! Five Questions on Media Art with John Hanhardt
February 4, 2011
John Hanhardt, the senior curator of media art at the American Art Museum, has put together the current exhibition, Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image in American Art's new media art gallery. It features the work of Nam June Paik, the founding father of video art, as well as Cory Archangel, Bill Viola, Jim Campbell, Peter Campus, Svetlana and Igor Kopystiansky, Marina Zurkow, and Kota Ezawa, whose work, LYAM 3D, is best viewed with those funky blue and red 3D glasses provided in the gallery.
Eye Level: Tell me a little about the installation. We have nine works by nine different artists spanning more than forty years of video and digital works. What's the evolution of time-based media at the museum?
John Hanhardt: We're forming a collection that's building on the great presence that the Smithsonian American Art Museum has for media through the artwork Nan June Paik and the recent acquisition of his archive. I've worked with all the artists that we have in this gallery newly dedicated to new media, beginning with Nam June, whom I met in the 1970s and worked with on a number of his exhibitions.
EL: Let's talk about Paik a little. Visitors to the museum are likely to be familiar with his larger than life work, Electronic Superhighway, an installation in a neighboring gallery that maps the country visually.
JH: It's a great work about the United States, but it's also a geography of the movies and popular culture and history, and how those things are captured and represented through the media. Nam June is the one who transformed video and television into an artist's medium. The piece that we have in Watch This! 9/23/69: Experiment with David Atwood, was made on the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer, which Nam June built with video engineer Shuya Abe. This was an artist-made and artist-developed tool that allowed Nam June to transform and introduce color and abstraction and layers of movement into this iconic medium. He understood that he had a palette of color, that he was changing the cathode ray tube and bringing in a new dimension of time, movement, and color to art. Paik was humanizing technology and he wanted to make it something that you could interact with.
EL: How does Paik's work relate to Cory Archangel's piece, Video Painting which is next to it in the exhibition? Do the artists "interact" with one another?
JH: Cory Archangel is an artist who understands new media and the history of media arts. I put him deliberately near Nam June because I think there's an intergenerational dialogue happening between Archangel's research into the archive of various computer and interactive technologies that is the basis of video painting, and Nam June's great investigation of the moving image with David Atwood, which is from 1969. That's 40 years! There are other dialogues going on around the room, for example, between the portaits of Peter Campus (Three Transitions, 1973) and Bill Viola (Surrender, 2001), as well as between Jim Campbell (Grand Central Station, 2009) and Kota Ezawa (LYAM 3D, 2008), all of whom have a deep understanding of texture and material, color and density. There are dialogues going on across the room, across the generations and across the media.
EL: Is the screen the new canvas?
JH: Yes, the screen is the new material. It's the medium through which we communicate and express ourselves. Just think about painting and still images. They communicate. They were a way to negotiate an understanding of the world. That's what's happening now with the temporal, moving image. The great paintings come from an artist who understands paint and transforms it. The artists whose works we've collected here understand digital and analog and transform it. It's very exciting.
EL: What's next for media arts in the museum?
JH: The media art gallery gives us a wonderful opportunity to feature newly acquired work. In addition we will present artists in depth, from their early to their late work. That's certainly the case of Nam June Paik. In 2012 there will be an exhibition of his work from the recently acquired archives with some major pieces. The scope and span and accomplishment of his work is breathtaking--there's nothing quite like it.
EL: Thank you John Hanhardt.
- Media Art, Video Art, Nam June Paik, Museums and Technology, American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum
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