New Media in an Old Institution: The Met’s Taste in Video

Jim Campbell, Motion and Rest #2 (video still), 2002It was only a matter of time (40 years to be precise) before the Metropolitan Museum got hip to video art, but fortunately its small “Closed Circuit: Video and New Media at the Metropolitan” exhibit is making up for some lost time. “Closed Circuit” is a rich repository of some of the fine video they’ve acquired during the last five years–they started collecting video in 2001!

Their video collection is an off-shoot of their photography department, since, they say they view the medium as a sequence of images and doesn’t have a film department like their younger sister in midtown, MoMA (which, coincidentally, also has a media dept.). Someone should tell the venerable old institution that there is a fundamental flaw to their thinking–video as sequence of images? Media guru Marshall McLuhan debunked that notion in the sixties! It’s more akin to a medieval icon, he suggested, since the video screen does not have a shutter and doesn’t mimic the eye, but transmits continuous information.

Nonetheless, “Closed Circuit” is chocked full of wonderful work and goes a long way towards institutionalizing a form that was once the stepchild of the art world and is today pivotal to its future.

Maria Marshall, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cooker (video still), 1998Maria Marshall (b. 1966) “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cooker” (video still), 1998, Met Museum

Here goes my attempt at picking two mind-blowing favorites in the show:

One, Maria Marshall‘s “When I Grow Up…” silent 19 second loop (the amount of time the average museum visitor looks at an art work) combines images of her son and a vintage smoking film to create a riveting large projection. Of Iraqi descent, born in Bombay and currently living in London, Marshall’s satire goes beyond the quick edits of political commentary and somehow makes it seem sexy and precious (is that possible?).

Darren Almond, Schwebebahn (video still), 1995Darren Almond (b. 1971) “Schwebebahn” (video still), 1995, Met Museum

Two, Darren Almond‘s urban fantasia “Schwebebahn,” which careens (upside down) on the screen while ceiling speakers transmit intensely hypnotic drum ‘n bass music. There is one sweet spot in front of the video screen which makes the music seem to be penetrating your skull. Accompanied by the almost familiar seeming stream of images, Almond’s art work offers a nod to the period’s rave and club culture while feeling right at home in the Met’s hallowed halls.

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