Oct. 21 2015 11:15 AM

Broad Art Museum tackles 50 years of video art

In a curious twist of fate, the death of former Broad Art Museum Director Michael Rush helped the museum acquire one of the cornerstone pieces of its latest exhibit, “Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015.”

Curator Caitlín Doherty described the piece, Andy Warhol’s 33-minute “Outer and Inner Space,” as “difficult to get,” noting that the Andy Warhol Museum rarely loans out the video. In the end, the museum agreed to loan the video to the Broad in memory of Rush.

For the museum’s staff and supporters, this exhibit is equal parts art exhibition and tribute to Rush. The late director had a passionate love for video art. For him, it captured crucial aspects of live performance with the painterly beauty of traditional art.

Rush wrote two books on the subject and had plans for a big video art retrospective from the beginning of his tenure at the Broad. When Rush died in March, it was left to Doherty to put the show together.

“Michael and I had some great conversations about it,” Doherty said. “It was really his baby. We felt strongly that it was important to Michael’s legacy, and also institutionally, that we throw our weight behind this show. To my knowledge, we are the only museum that is doing this kind of major exhibition, focusing on 50 years of video art.”

“Moving Time” takes up the entire second floor and the west entryway of the museum. Designed as a retrospective, the exhibit traces the origins of video art back to 1965. That year, artists Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik each created experimental videos using video cameras that were just hitting the consumer market. The pieces, “Outer and Inner Space” and Paik’s “Button Happening,” are the first videos that greet viewers at the second floor landing.

From here, Doherty’s curatorial prowess takes over. Rather than taking viewers on a chronological trip through the genre, the exhibit radiates out it several directions. Doherty describes the arrangement as “spokes on a wheel,” with Warhol and Paik serving as the hub.

The largest upstairs room houses “Asylum” (2001/2002), an immersive installment by Julian Rosefeldt featuring nine videos projected on screens. Some screens are hung on the walls while others are suspended in the middle of the room like makeshift dividers. The videos seem, at first glance, to be unrelated. One screen shows workers on a fishing boat, others show forest scenes or ballet dancers. But eventually, synchronicities appear between the videos, and at times all nine screens converge for a visual and sonic climax, only to subside into disparate images.

In the next room over, Doherty has carved out a space for female video art pioneers.

“I wanted to bring together artists who were really pushing the boundaries,” Doherty said. “They were exploring technical possibilities.”

Several of the works in this room explore issues of gender roles in society. In Martha Rosler’s “Semiotics of the Kitchen” (1975) the artist acts as an “anti-Julia Child.” The video features Rosler deadpanning her way through a cooking demonstration punctuated by violent stabbing and other signs of hidden aggression. In Adrian Piper’s 1973 work, “Mythic Being,” the artist dons an afro wig and mustache and takes to the city sidewalks.

(One of the more striking parts of this video is how the people on the street react to the camera. Passing children mug for the camera, and one elderly lady even asks, “Is this a movie?”)

Taking one of the other spokes, Doherty has assembled works that play off of other media. “Six fois deux/ Sur et sous la communication,” a 1976 work by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, comprises a series of works created for French television. “Workers Leaving the Factory” (1995) by Harun Farocki combines archival footage of automobile factory workers in Germany and Detroit with scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

The exhibit is more temporally demanding than most Broad exhibits; every piece demands your time. While many of the videos are just a few minutes long, others take up an hour or more. While Doherty thinks that all of the videos can make an impression in a short viewing, she hopes that many people will come to see the exhibit more than once, taking time to immerse themselves in some of the longer pieces.

“People can do a walkthrough, or they can really focus on individual works,” Doherty said.

The exhibit is also the noisiest the Broad has put on. While many works have headphones, the larger works are broadcast through open air speakers. While some may not like the cacophony, it is a nice break from the stale, too-quiet atmosphere that can suffocate discussion.

And it is ambitious. Saying something meaningful about 50 years of video art in one exhibit in one museum is a lot to take on, but Doherty took to the challenge with curatorial cunning and a sense

of inclusiveness. The exhibit comprises works from all corners of the globe, including pioneers and established artists of both genders. The scope and breadth of the exhibit, and its connection to Rush, have generated international interest. The New York Times included “Moving Time” in its listing of notable museum and gallery exhibits for fall 2015.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important of an achievement this is for the Broad Art Museum and MSU,” Doherty said.

(Lawrence Cosentino contributed to this article.)

“Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015”

On display through Feb. 14 FREE Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum 547 E. Circle Drive, East Lansing (517) 884-4800, broadmuseum.msu.edu