Saturday, March 5, 2011

Moving Image Art Fair review

Video art takes time. It can take a lot of time, in fact, so I made sure to show up early for the debut of 'Moving Image - An Art Fair of Contemporary Video Art' (a somewhat redundant title--isn't all video art contemporary?), in its sleek and spacious home at the Waterfront Tunnel, a block-long cavernous corridor in the northern strip of Chelsea, home to a former nightclub and the occasional art fair venue. I stayed all day and saw everything, which consisted of a total of 36 individual works (30 single-channel videos and 6 installation/sculptural pieces) from an international roster of galleries from such locations as Zurich, Romania, Paris, and Ghent. New York is suitably represented by well-known venues like PPOW, Julie Saul, Pace, Bryce Wolkowitz, and of course from the fair's organizer and host, Edward Winkleman.

Moving Image Fair opening, March 3

I look at a lot of video; even I can get sleepy. Truthfully, after 5 hours, I was still on my feet and watching pieces a second, third, and fourth time. Part of the love it/hate it relationship with video art is often with the presentation and the demands made upon one's attention; here, multiply that by 36. The minimal exhibition design is a cunning compromise, and for the most part, works--except when it doesn't. Upon entering, the first half of the show is airily spaced out with six installations that incorporate sculpture or projection to varying degrees; the remaining show of 30 single-channel videos are shown individually along two rows of alternate-side facing monitors, suspended from a hanging gantry. The monitors are unimposing in size, and are belittled somewhat by the scale of the room. However, this makes for an intimate viewing experience, and one can quickly glance down the line of TVs to get a quick preview of all the works at once. Each monitor only has one awkward counter stool assigned to it, so you have to do a lot of standing, but chic couches are placed evenly throughout the space, and--Thank God!!--a 'Wichcraft cafe is housed about halfway through, relief for when your legs and eyes start getting cranky.

Before I discuss the work, a few general notes are in order. First, this fair was invite only, not open submission, and thus reflects the taste (and network) of the hosting gallery and the advisory committee (including Elizabeth Dee, John Connelly, and Kevin McGarry--the full list is on the fair's website). If you were worried about seeing a kunsthalle stuffed with Bill Viola-, Pipilotti Rist-, and Ryan Trecartin-esque antics, you may be pleased at the low-octane, more considered energy of this fair.

Second, the selection of works is slanted toward the short-form and the narrative/performance-based, an observation of which was confirmed by Mr. Winkleman in an effort to, in a nutshell, not try the viewer's patience with an overload of difficult work (the favored maxim of my wise professor/mentor on durational art was: "If it's bad, it's also LONG and bad!"). Combined with the uniformity of presentation, this could be said to create a consistent, themed exhibition, more of a survey show than an art fair; a critical view might also see it as flattening and homogeneous.

Finally, it's hard to tell if this decision reflects the state of the art so much as the state of the market. Difficult and conceptual work is hard to sell, and this IS an art fair. However, barely 7 or 8 of the 36 video works on display are NOT in some way performance based or based on some mode of bodily figuration or characterization. This reflects a bias towards only one formal strain of video art, with many strategic positions, of course, but can hardly be said to be a survey of the full range of moving image and screen-based art in current circulation. There is very little abstract or experimental work; almost no animation at all; no internet-based or interactive/digital pieces whatsoever; and very little technological-sculptural work, with a couple clear exceptions in the installation portion of the show. All this is fine-- video-about-video and techno-gimmicks get old fast, and there is a good range of ideas and production values present.

But unfortunately, of all these bodies on display across these screens, they are, without exception, ALL, it must be said, of the ivory skin coloration. Not to play the quota game, but with such an international spectrum on display, and in view of the pronounced visibility of video artists of color on the biennial & fair circuit, this seems a strange and tangible void.
(CORRECTION: The sole exception to this criticism is the installation 'Trans Siberian Amazons', which I forgot about in my notes.)

On to the work. Like I said, the pieces mostly tend towards the short-form and the conceptual one-off, so feel free to streamline your viewing experience depending on what grabs you. The roundup:

I found myself returning to works which I found quirky, strange, and affecting. Of these: Shana Moulton's Galactic Pot Healer (2010), named after but not apparently based on the Philip K. Dick novel, portrays an elfish woman and the mysterious, titular entity which repairs broken pots by kneading the clay-like flesh of its clients. It's funny, perhaps even a bit twee, but is disarmingly clever in its low-fi, fantastical take on the oft-explored notions of the female body as a literal site of production through craft-work. (UPDATE: a later afternoon visit to the fair proved this video to be a real crowd favorite, not to my surprise!)

Shana Moulton, Galactic Pot Healer
Janet Biggs' Airs Above The Ground (2007) portrays an underwater ballet performance by a fit young female swimmer. The simple decision to flip the camera upside down, thus orienting the youthful athlete 'upwards' as she rises and descends, is haunting and supernatural.
Janet Biggs, Airs Above The Ground
Corban Wallker's TV Man (2010). You can't miss this droll and somewhat confrontational act of self-portraiture, in which the artist presents himself 'life-size' within a wide-screen TV frame.

Corban Walker, TV Man

Andres Laracuente's Timepiece (2008) is an eye-catching, increasingly grotesque head-shot of an "aged voice actress" who attempts to maintain her close-up composure while getting hosed in the face by an aerosolized fog spray. It is at turns weirdly hilarious and touching; I think I could watch it all day.

Andres Laracuente, Timepiece
Alex Mirutziu's Runway Spill #2 (2011) depicts the artist attempting to stand in an awkward pose, arrested in mid-fall. You get it right away, it's a visual one-liner, but it works; oddly, the high-falutin' wall text fails to note the piece's obvious witty 'moving image' reference to Robert Longo's famous 'Men In The Cities' series.

Alex Mirutziu, Runway Spill #2
Video's been around for a while, so certain modes of production reassert themselves continuously, often to the point of cliche or banality. If you'll forgive me a moment of absurd reductionism, the fair is not without its 'Woman-as-Talking-Head-Speaking-To-The-Camera' genre (Cecilia Stenborn's Alive and Sophia Lisa Beresford's First and Second Creation, both by UK-based Workplace Gallery) and its male-go-to counterpoint, the 'Dude-In-A-Room-Doing-Weird-Fetish-Shit' archetype (Martin Soto Climent's The Chessboard Hall and RKDB's 'The Healing of Xrist). We've seen this type of work before, and I'm not sure these have much to add to these practices, but in an act of redemption is the always fascinating, sometimes goofy Melanie Bonajo and her Diversion (2009), which combines the performance of direct address, shamanistic ritual and consumer-junk props lashed to naked, forlorn bodies like so much sexualized, post-capitalist flotsam.

As I mentioned, abstract and electronic work is scant, so it's good that what IS on view is engaging. Jim Campbell's edge-of-perception, volumetric LED grid is a rare fusion of concept and technical wizardry (a larger outdoor version of this work is also on view in Madison Square Park). Hiraki Sawa's Dwelling (2010), depicting tiny airplanes flying around an apartment, is a dry, witty favorite, but unfortunately looks a lot better online than it does here. Miranda Lichtenstein's Danse Serpentine (2010) is a psychedelic, whirling arabesque which pays homage to the twin births of modern dance and cinema. Martin Kohout is definitely the odd-man-out in this show with the atmospheric Moonwalk (2008), a kind of electronic-tonal 'Stairway To Heaven' composed solely of stepped stacks of a YouTube player scroll-bar displaying the progression of the audible score.

Miranda Lichtenstein, Danse Serpentine
Of course the show had its harder-to-parse moments. I won't go into the hyperbolic and hilariously overblown wall-text statements, but they are worth an embarrassed chuckle or three. In my notes I charitably upgraded the category from 'Mindless' to 'Willfully Obscure' as seen in such works as Adrien Missika's Flat Beat, Paul Mpagi Sepuya's A Separate Piece, and Johanna Unzuta's Natural Movements, pieces that show how too often certain half-baked ideas are communicated, yet unserviced, by this medium. Leslie Thornton's Binocular (2010), on view at Ed Winkleman's a short time ago, is formally elegant but falls somewhat short of the mark in its comment on the aesthetics of our technologized 'seeing' of nature. I wanted to like Glen Fogel's With Me...You installation more than I could, which because of its insistent scale as a five-channel walk-through projection is likely to be remembered as the fair's most pronounced statement. Consisting of family heirloom jewelry shot on a turntable against monochrome backgrounds, then projected monumentally, any personal or melancholic reading of the work is outstripped by its resemblance to a tacky store display or Zale's commercial. Still, there is something there--maybe--but it didn't slow me down much. The same could be said of Carolee Schneeman's War Mop (1983), a kitschy kinetic sculpture, which was a particularly odd piece to choose from this pioneering feminist artist, given the fair's disposition toward female-performance and body-oriented work.

Glen Fogel, With Me...You
In that regard, some historical grounding is provided with Hannah Wilke's Intercourse With... (1975), a well-edited performance documentation that includes images of the artist's nude body covered with various texts. At almost half and hour, it is the longest piece in the fair, but worth spending time with. PPOW also presents David Wojnarowicz' Heroin (1978), a silent black and white film transfer that recalls his well-known 'Rimbaud in New York' photo series, which is wonderful to see if you are as passionate about this artist as I am, but it does remind one that Wojnarowicz' voice was more fully realized in his writings and paintings.

Despite my insistence on the 'theme' of this show, Mr. Winkleman assures me that no such theme was consciously intended or directed. Adopting an active rather than reactive stance, the fair was assembled quickly and elegantly with the notion in mind that (to paraphrase) "..asking 'how can we sell video work' is the wrong question. The point is that if you are serious about [collecting and looking at] contemporary art, you can't ignore this." As the market for video continues to vie for authenticity by emulating the artificial scarcity-editioning method of photography, in actuality, it is the very malleability of video that is ripe with potential. More than one of the single-channel works here are distillations of more complicated multi-screen installation setups, which points to the fact that video art is conceptual art, at least in half, at its very core. (UPDATE: At the panel discussion held at the fair on Saturday, there were some interesting complaints from the curators about video artists' tendencies to continue fiddling with the presentation of the work long past its original context and intent, because of new technology being made available, or "just because they can"). I have a lot of respect for the overall sophistication of execution at this inaugural fair, and for reducing what could have been an unwieldy concept to its first and basic principles. I'm looking forward to witnessing Moving Image's future evolution.


Moving Image: An Art Fair Of Contemporary Video Art is open from Thurs-Sat, March 2-5 from 11am-8pm, and Sunday March 6 from 11am-3pm, at the Waterfront New York Tunnel, 269 11th Avenue between 27th & 28th st. Visit for more details.


  1. nice event and telling of it, makes me wanna hop on the first flight out...

    but just one comment, in regards to the statement about video art and contemporaneity.... of course this is contingent on how you define contemporary, but I'd counter and tell you to go to the MOMA and see some stuff from the early 70s..... (but then again maybe you are older than you look?)

  2. Yes, but I think of 'contemporary' in a broader sense...many of the original practitioners of video art are still alive and with us...I do consider Nam Jun Paik's and the Vasulka's work, for example, to be 'contemporary' even if it's not au currant.