Earlier this year the Guggenheim Museum and YouTube launched YouTube Play, a new “Biennial of Creative Video.” The museum’s website says the goal is to “discover and showcase the most exceptional talent working in the ever-expanding realm of online video.” Or as they state six sentences further on, the project will be “showcasing exceptional talent working in the ever-expanding realm of digital media.” Clear?
This week the project moved into its next phase, with the announcement of a shortlist of 125 videos.
The selections were made by a Guggenheim curatorial team, whose members must have logged a lot of hours screening some 23,000 submissions. Unfortunately in the end what they came up with is…just another entry in the ever-expanding realm of YouTube playlists.
That’s not to slight any of the artists chosen. There’s plenty of good work here–and I’ve only skimmed and sampled the selections. It’s pretty much standard YouTube fare, a mix of semi-original music videos, oddball parodies, impressive stop-motion shorts and weird art school projects. Loads of cleverness and technical virtuosity. Fun to watch.
The disappointment comes from the fact that after all the hype, the Guggenheim shortlist doesn’t tell us a thing about online video we don’t already know. And still less about the relationship between video and “critical contemporary art practices.”
Perhaps this should come as no surprise; there’s more than a little cultural and generational discomfort in the Guggenheim – YouTube pairing. Here’s Guggenheim Chief Curator and YouTube Play jury chairperson Nancy Spector explaining the selection process on the Wall Street Journal Speakeasyblog. “We were always looking for quality, but the one thing that evolved as we went through the entries is that we began to understand that there are special genres specific to YouTube, such as the mash-up or stop-motion videos.” Began to understand…special genres specific to…what did she say?
Spector goes on to note that ” once we looked the filmmakers’ bios, we realized digital video isn’t just for kids.” That is an important thing for the curator of a biennial of creative video to know; good thing the bios were provided.
There’s also a problem with the whole “discover and showcase” thing when some of the selections have been viewed five or ten or fifteen million times. Do we really need Guggenheim curators to serve up another round of Western Spaghetti by PES? Or the This Too Shall Pass Rube Goldberg Machinevideo? Or please: Guitar: Impossible by MysteryGuitarMan? The Guggenheim describes their selections as “not what’s ‘now’ but what’s next”. Welcome to 2008!
Now a high-profile jury will select 20-25 finalists for a two-day (showcase?) exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in October. What will a panel of film makers, artists and performers including the likes of Takashi Murakami, Laurie Anderson, Marilyn Minter, Daron Aronofsky, and members of the group Animal Collective choose as the best of the best? Hopefully this group can mine some gems out of the mishmash that the Guggenheim has produced.
In the meantime have a look at the shortlist and tell us your likes and dislikes in the comments below.