‘California Video’ at the Getty offers a new twist on art

Jessica Hager

A new exhibition at the Getty Center has something to boast about – it’s the first of its kind in California. California Video features video art from more than 58 artists and displays 50 single-channel videos and 15 video installations.

The video medium began to be used as art in the 1960s and 70s, and the last forty years has seen a proliferation in this form of artistic expression.

Though many of the primarily west-coast artists featured in the exhibit are unfamiliar to the general public, they have been instrumental in creating a form of art that is separate from the movies and television shows typically associated with video.

Artists like John Baldessari, Diana Thater and Chris Burden have used video to create performance art, sculpture, interactive documentaries and installations. The Getty Center has compiled these works into a comprehensive collection of video art spanning four decades.

What makes this exhibit stand out is its interactive quality. The video screens, projections and sculptures are set up so that guests can move about freely from one installation to the next, using the provided headphones to listen to the sound.

Chairs and benches are set up at each screen so that guests can participate at their leisure, and a separate room within the gallery is devoted to kiosks that allow visitors to scroll through the entire collection on display. The kiosks also provide artist biographies and other information, using a simple touch-screen method.

Unlike older, more established forms of art, video art is an evolving medium. The term ‘conceptual art’ is used to describe this and other forms of art that came out of the 60s and 70s. The notion of ‘what is art’ began to be challenged at this time, and many of the works produced are abstract.

Alan Ackoff’s “Cornceptual Art” (1976) is one such video. Shot in black and white, the mini-film features a close-up of the artist as he makes faces into the camera. An old country-western song plays in the background. The accompanying description tells viewers that the artist is “lamenting the loss of his car, his Portapak video camera, and his ability to perceive space and time.”

Most of the video art on display is from the 1970s and 80s, yet this collection feels new and fresh. The modern works on display combined with the engaging quality of the exhibit makes one feel connected to the art, like you’re actually a part of its creation.

One of the largest works on display, “The Eternal Frame” (1975) by a group of artists known as Ant Farm in collaboration with T.R. Uthco, is a set made to look like a 1970s living room, complete with a pink couch, flowery wallpaper and portraits of John F. Kennedy on the walls. The vintage television set is the focal point of the display, as a recreation of Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent interviews with people on the streets are played.

Other socially relevant footage includes “The Continuing Story of Carel and Ferd” (1970-75). This documentary follows a couple through various stages of courtship, marriage and then divorce. Viewers are told that this is a direct precursor to the reality TV phenomenon that is popular today.

Another interesting use of video is presented in Paul Kos’s “Chartres Bleu” (1983-86). Twenty-seven video panels mimic the shape of a stained glass window from Chartres Cathedral in Paris. Each screen displays an image from one of the cathedral windows, and the panels fade from light to dark, which has the effect of fading from daylight to night.

These and many other works in the exhibit present a unique and unusual experience for viewers. The Getty Center is home to the one-of-a-kind California Video until June 8.