This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.
Television Delivers People
Whitney Museum of American Art - 945 Madison Ave New York, NY
12 December 2007 - 17 February 2008
You can tell a lot about a video exhibition by how the videos are shown. Those square grey cushions let you know to move on quickly while couches invite you to stick around for a while. Television Delivers People at the Whitney Museum, curated by Gary Carrion-Murayari, provides seating for about twelve, including only two benches directed toward the large screen on which most of the works loop in sequence. With over three hours of material, such an arrangement betrays a surprising lack of conviction in the show.
These issues of control and selectivity relate to the premise of the exhibition — videos examining how television and mass media entertainment exist to push an agenda of consumption, class politics, and the power of celebrity. The exhibition is named for a 1973 video by Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman. (Schoolman is clearly listed as a collaborator within the video itself, but the Whitney’s website and wall label attribute the piece to Serra alone. In an email response to my question about the discrepancy, the Whitney press office cited several archives that similarly list only Serra but offer no explanation for why Schoolman is no longer credited as a collaborator. Even if the reason for this change is benign, the Museum‘s lack of solid information is problematic.) In Serra and Schoolman’s video, included in the exhibition on one of three small monitors, statements about the function of entertainment as a means to "deliver" viewers to advertisers scroll up the screen while upbeat elevator music plays in the background. These straightforward and sometimes pointed comments seem almost quaint in the context of advertising today and the ever-blurring line between entertainment and brand promotion that are evident in viral marketing, cross marketing, and product placement.
Too often the works in thematic exhibitions have a predictable sameness to them. The theme provides a narrow focus, with one work after another conveying a similar take on the subject. The current show at apexart, Stalking with Stories, is a welcome change. Curated by Antonia Majaca and Ivana Bago, the works are unified through their consideration of nostalgia and memory, while each piece plays with the friction between stories known to a group and the individual experiences of those stories. What can be revealed and what is left out vary considerably from artist to artist. These investigations into narrative collectively manifest its elusive and shifting nature.
Felix Gmelin’s video installation, Farbtest, Die Rote Fahne II, includes two monitors. One shows a red flag being carried through the streets of Berlin in 1968; the other depicts a recreation of this performance in 2002 Stockholm. Though the political landscape of a walled Berlin provides the backdrop for the earlier video, so does the knowledge that the artist’s father appears in the Berlin video. Divorced from the 1968 context, the younger Gmelin’s inhabiting of the past strips substance from the action, suggesting the impotence and emptiness of parroting historical acts of social protest.