Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not Yet in Final Draft

Although officially the effort continued through the early 1990s, from a market point of view, the art film and video distribution effort known as Castelli-Sonnabend Videotapes and Films, Inc. was notoriously short lived (lasting in earnest only about 2 years).
Not only did the historically successful contemporary art dealers struggle with the pricing model for film and video, as well as run head on into an economic downturn that put the kibosh on a wide range of art market plans at the time, but they were faced with a highly skeptical collector base (including museums) at the time. Their heart and minds were in the right place, though, as the summary of the effort on the Whitney's website notes:
Castelli and Sonnabend were responding to a strong engagement with film and video by a new generation of post-Minimalist artists that included Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, John Chamberlain, Vito Acconci, Lawrence Weiner, Yvonne Rainer, Joan Jonas, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and William Wegman, among others. Castelli also commissioned several films and videotapes, which were premiered at the gallery.

A distribution catalogue of the films and videotapes was published, with entries on each work. Distribution continued until the early 1990s. Some of the videotapes and films are now distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix, New York, and Video Databank, Chicago.
This is but one example of how much the early market for moving image based artwork struggled (if Leo and Ileana couldn't make it work, few others would stand a snowball's chance in hell). Still, as Noah Horowitz details in his wonderful book, other galleries did bravely tackle the challenge in the US and Europe, but each tended to close or become a non-profit usually within just a few years of opening. There simply were not enough people buying.
The effect of this spotty-at-best market (and one of the reasons I get so irate when people who claim they care about art are so dismissive of the commercial side of the art world) was two-fold: 1) because at first they couldn't get collectors/trustees to understand it, museum curators struggled to acquire much of the historically important work from the 1960s and 70s (things on that front started to improve in the 1980s, but the museums are even to this day still playing catch-up), leaving many artists making truly amazing work at the time outside the institutions that could preserve and present their accomplishment; and 2) there is a significant human price for such oversights.
There is a cultural price we pay for the skepticism to early achievement in film and video art, of course, but there is also a personal price artists and their families pay for it as well. I was reminded of this when Murat told me how artist Hermine Freed (whose work was presented at Moving Image New York 2013 by Video Data Bank) had family come from all over the country to see her work in the fair. Hermine's 1972 work Two Faces is an absolute gem of influential, early video artwork and although it's been exhibited alongside works by artists such as Lynda Benglis, Peter Campus, Dan Graham, and Richard Serra (seriously, add Hermine Freed to that list and you have the complete line-up for the program for Then, Not Nauman: Conceptualists of the Early Seventies(shown at the world renown UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in 2007), her name is not widely known.

Hermine Freed, Two Faces (1972), still, Courtesy Video Data Bank and Moving Image.

Why Freed is the least recognizable name in that list to many art world insiders today is due in part, I suspect, to the fact that the other artists either made work in other media (which was more readily collected) or they have outlived Hermine, who passed away in 1998. Either way, it's a historical error, and we were so thankful that Video Data Bank were willing to present her work at Moving Image. 
We were humbled greatly that Hermine's family were also happy that their cherished member's work was receiving new attention. So much so that they traveled from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, DC, and Virgina to attend Moving Image. Here's a photo of them with Murat at the fair:

Another excellent artist working in moving images who was overlooked by the establishment during his life but getting more attention now (and one I only just discovered) is Klaus Lutz. Zurich's Rotwand Gallery presented a solo booth of his work at this year's Armory Show. The film they presented was smart and gorgeous, and I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of him before. Again, I blame the market's resistance to this medium for why such strong work remained so under-exposed. 

Fortunately history is written and rewritten, rather than carved in stone. The curators of film and video I know work tirelessly to bring such works to the public's attention and we in particular thank and greatly admire them for it. The thing for me is, and I've said this before, many of today's most important artists are (often in addition to other bodies of work) picking up cameras and making moving-image based work. Whether you're a museum or a private collector, if you truly want your contemporary collection to reflect the important work of your day, you simply cannot ignore moving-image based work. There's a cultural price, a personal price for the artists and their families, and for the collector who ignores it a credibility price, in my humble opinion.


Anonymous Abina Manning said...

Thanks so much Ed and Murat for including VDB and Hermine Freed's work at Moving Image.

I couldn't agree more about the importance of including moving image art in any serious collection -- something that VDB and organizations like us have been arguing for decades. In particular, video art produced in the early decades by women artists like Hermine Freed has long been neglected by collectors, something we continue to work to rectify.

It was very satisfying last weekend to witness so many young people mesmerized by Hermine Freed's ground-breaking work, some 40 years after she made it.

Abina Manning, Video Data Bank

3/14/2013 04:28:00 PM  

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