Digital Media Redux
Two thoughts before we get into the meat of it:
Pixel Power! (Linda Yablonsky/NYTimes)
David Byrnes Alternative PowerPoint Universe (Veronique Vienne/NYTimes)
And now for the meat of it:
Frank points to this: Finally, the video revolution in art has led to the Napsterization of it as well: When Fans of Pricey Video Art Can Get It Free by Greg Allen/NYTimes.
Not so long ago, the idea that video could be a medium for artistic expression was radical fringe; today, as Mr. Barney's success shows, it has become conventional cultural wisdom. And so, increasingly, is the idea that video, along with film, animation, and slide-based work, can be sold in the same exclusive manner as painting and sculpture. Through the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Mr. Barney sold each "Cremaster" film in a limited edition of 10, numbered and encased in table-size vitrines. These pieces have since sold at auction for as much as $387,500. Other emerging stars like Pipilotti Rist, the Swiss installation artist, or Pierre Huyghe, the French recipient of the 2002 Hugo Boss Award, also now command five- and six-figure prices for their video work.
But while artists and dealers are limiting the supply of videos, and placing them in the private homes of wealthy patrons, a new breed of collector has staged a quiet revolt. These aren't the people who keep auction prices afloat, or whose lavish support turns struggling newcomers into art-world celebrities. Instead, these are journalists, gallery staffers, professors and art students who trade bootleg copies of the coveted videos - just as Napster users did with MP3 files. Because digital technology makes these bootlegs so easy to duplicate and distribute, and because they are so close to the "original" editions sold in galleries, they pose an intriguing challenge to the authenticity on which art's value is traditionally based.
[...] Even if it's for love and not money, though, copying and distributing work without the artist's permission is against the law. "Whether it is video or a painting, the principle is the same: artists own and control the copyright to their work," explains Dr. Theodore Feder, president of the Artists Rights Society, which manages and monitors copyrights for artists. None of these underground traders have been prosecuted - yet - but the music industry's recent legal pursuit of online file swappers prompts most traders to keep a low profile.
Nevertheless, Chris Hughes, a 25-year-old artist and self-taught video art expert, has put his entire catalog online, at www.freehomepages.com/crhughes/. With 1,500 works, representing early pioneers like Vito Acconci and Yoko Ono as well as current stars like Mr. Huyghe, Douglas Gordon and Gillian Wearing, the breadth of Mr. Hughes's collection rivals those of many museums. The difference, however, is that he got almost all of it through unsanctioned trading.
[...] But some critics - even some video artists themselves - have argued that such a business model, useful in the sale of prints, cast sculptures and photography, is meaningless for video. "For videos, editions are fake," says Pierre Huyghe, in a comment seemingly designed to alarm his dealer. "When Rodin could only cast three sculptures of a nude before the mold lost its sharpness, it made sense. But all my works are on my hard drive, in ones and zeros." His dealer, Marian Goodman, has nonetheless sold certified copies of Mr. Huyghe's videos for prices estimated in the high five figures. Artists have the same right as anyone else to make a living, she points out, and limited editions represent a "logical, established tradition" which makes that possible.
[...] Loss of control can also yield fortuitous results, however, by allowing video artists to experiment with one another's work in much the same way that musicians sample and remix one another's songs. (Because the experiments are artistic projects in their own right, they may not violate copyright law.) In an editing tour de force, the Swiss artist Christian Marclay combined over 600 sound and film clips from over a hundred classic movies to create an intense, 15-minute musical composition, synchronized over four 10-foot screens. In preparing the work, which was commissioned by SFMOMA and the Grand Museum of Luxembourg, and exhibited in New York at the Paula Cooper Gallery, Mr. Marclay didn't bother to pursue the rights to any of those films. Instead he pulled freely and without permission from whatever movie tapes or DVD's he could lay his hands on.
And a young Baltimore video artist, Jon Routson, whose work explores bootlegging itself, has tackled Matthew Barney's work head-on. In April at New York's Team Gallery, Mr. Routson showed his "made for TV" version of "Cremaster 4." He cut a grainy VHS bootleg of Mr. Barney's 45-minute film down to 22 minutes, dropped in actual commercials, compressed the end credits and even floated ABC's logo in the lower corner of the screen. The result: a hilarious, smart, and brazen work, which drew critical praise and which may be a sign of things to come.
Why troubling? The art world, as it embraces digital technologies, seems not to have given any more thought to the implications of digital delivery than any other industries have. And each successive industry that goes into these technologies without thinking through the implications is going to add their voices to the chorus of the RIAA's and MPAA's songs of woe. [emphasis mine]
Why, yes. They do get it, there at the end, don't they?
Posted by Mary Hodder at August 17, 2003 10:48 AM