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A Brief History of Video Art


Walker Art Center



Institution Walker Art Center
Video art is a genre that began in the mid-1960s with the advent of Sony's first portable camera (called the "porta-pack"), which allowed visual artists to produce their own single-channel black-and-white videotapes. Nam June Paik, who had transformed televisions into sculptural objects, purportedly made the first video art with a porta-pack in 1965 and screened his tapes just a few hours later in a New York City nightclub. Video now afforded artists an unprecedented spontaneity to document performances and everyday events. They could create videotapes for screenings or installations in galleries and museums, or for other public sites.

In the 1970s, performance artists worked in their studios or gallery spaces with little more than a video camera, a monitor, a tripod, and a few props. They used video to document performances that often involved the repetition of simple gestures or mundane tasks. Tapes of performances from this period include Vito Acconci stepping up and down on a stool until exhaustion stopped him; Bruce Nauman rolling around on the floor with a lighted fluorescent tube; William Wegman teaching his dog Man Ray to spell; and Martha Rosler having every inch of her body measured and recorded. Artists also staged one-time solo performances outside their studios and documented them on videotape for future presentation.

Within a few years, 3/4-inch broadcast quality color video became available to artists. Many chose to show their videotapes on independent artists' networks or cable television, while others were able to broadcast their work on commercial stations. By the late 1970s the first generation of artists raised on television appropriated its images to deconstruct aspects of our increasingly mediated culture. When video-projection technology became refined and less expensive in the 1980s, room-size video installations proliferated in galleries and museums. Today the boundaries between art, entertainment, and popular culture continue to blur as a younger generation of artists explores video in conjunction with burgeoning forms of new media such as the Internet.

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Type: Commentary, gallery guide
Source: Gallery Guide, A Brief History of Video Art, from the exhibition Performance in the 1970s: Experiencing the Everyday, Andersen Window Gallery, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, May 24-November 8, 1998.
Rights: Copyright 1998 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009