Birth and first steps of video art

Video art works are not always easy to watch. They are often tiring and too conceptual, which is why viewers walk away in mid-program. Yet this type of art occupies an important position in the 20th century, associated with the time’s most radical artistic currents. This historical character of video is highlighted in «Videographies – The Early Decades,» an exhibition organized by the National Museum of Contemporary Art (NMCA) in Athens and held at the exhibition hall of the School of Fine Arts. Drawn from the rich permanent video collection of the NMCA, the works by artists who pioneered the genre span the 1960s and 1970s Korean artist Nam June Paik is considered to be the creator of video art, and the Athens exhibition aptly opens with an installation of some of his early videos. A central figure in the Fluxus art movement, Nam June Paik had studied music, art history and philosophy, and worked closely with the composer John Cage and the German artist Joseph Beuys. Paik’s versatility and bent for experimenting and combining different art forms led him to video art in 1965. He used a portable Sony video camera released for sale a year earlier for the technical means and Marshall McLuhan’s «Understanding Media» for its new sensitivity toward electronic art. The Korean artist wanted to explore the alienating effects of television while also combining electronic images with performances and installations. He became one of the first artists to examine the language of video and its relationship to film. Early days In its early days, video was heavily associated with performance art. This aspect of video art is well represented in the exhibition. Bruce Nauman’s video of a ritual-like performance – in which the artist is seen covering his body in make-up – is an example. Like the feminist-oriented work of Rebecca Horn, Marina Abramovic or Carolee Schneemann, video became an extension of the artist’s body. The exhibit also explores the role of semiotics to the rise of video art, as shown in works by the American artist Gary Hill. Another American, Bill Viola, offers some of the most poetic works in the exhibition. His videos are the most engaging to watch and invoke more of a cinematic atmosphere than the other works. The exhibition has a flaw, however. Because all the works are arranged in the same vast exhibition space (with a couple of exceptions), the sound of each work is lost, merging with the aural aspects of the rest of the art to create noise. Overall, however, the exhibition is well arranged, with enough breathing space in between works to allow for comfortable viewing. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of artist and ex-rector of the Athens. School of Fine Arts, Nikos Kessanlis Works by Vito Acconci, Jean-Luc Godard, Mona Hatoum, Martha Rosler and Robert Wilson are also included in the exhibition. Athens School of Fine Arts (256 Pireos Street, Rentis, tel 210.924.2111-2). The show runs through to September 4. The second part of the exhibition begins on October 3 and runs to December 31.

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