It’s always fun to watch old sci-fi flicks to see what visionaries of the past predicted for us. By now we should all be traveling around strapped into jetpacks and flying cars.
Nam June Paik, the Korean video artist who coined the term “electronic superhighway” and created performance art with a cellist wearing a TV bra, envisioned television programming growing so rapidly that “TV Guide will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book.” Paik was right about the increased programming, but he had no way of knowing that another electronic medium —computers — would render phone books all but a relic of the past.
Visitors to the Sagamore Hotel in Miami Beach can see firsthand what Paik foretold in his Global Groove, a 28-minute video from 1973. The video is one of more than a dozen film, video and digital artworks on display for the next three months at the Sagamore. The show, Screen Play: Moving Image Art, is a collaborative effort with New York-based Electronic Arts Intermix, a nonprofit organization that promotes the creation, exhibition, distribution and preservation of moving image art. EAI also boasts one of the largest electronic arts collections in the world, with more than 3,500 works spanning six decades, the same period reflected in the Sagamore show.
Famed for its Basel brunch of sweet and savory crepes, mimosas and skewers of fresh fruit, the Sagamore — known as The Art Hotel — also serves as a world-class gallery that gives its guests the opportunity to experience art from the privacy of the television sets in their rooms and as they walk through the public areas from entry to elevator and beyond. The curated electronic exhibition is a recent addition.
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This marks the second year the Sagamore has presented an extensive electronic visual arts exhibition in conjunction with Art Basel. Last year, John Hanhardt, senior curator for media arts at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, presented Framing the Moving Image. This year, EAI Executive Director Lori Zippay serves as guest curator, using works from EAI’s extensive collection. Sagamore owner Cricket Taplin announced to the Miami Herald that she will be joining EAI’s board of directors and plans to make the electronic presentation an ongoing event.
“We have introduced video into the collection slowly over the years, and it will become a staple,” Taplin says, adding, “I’d never asked a guest curator to come in and curate a video exhibition until last year. … It’s a medium that’s not going to go away. It’s going to become a very rich part of our collection.”
The current exhibition includes works by such well-known artists as John Baldessari, Merce Cunningham and Lawrence Weiner. Although the works initially may appear disparate, they are connected on several levels. The theme is a play on the word “play,” in which artists exhibit their playful nature and delve into the interplay of art forms as expressed through video, film and digital media.
“In many of the works, the artists are actually responding to and reflecting on other art forms and other visual languages,” Zippay says. “But also [they are] very distinctive in how the artists are using the medium itself, video and digital art. Also I was interested in looking at the context of the works in public spaces, this idea of playfulness. There is a lot of humor and play.”
Zippay and Taplin worked together to select the various works for exhibition.
“We were thinking about the relation of the moving image to other artistic media forms — how artists use the moving image to think about painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, etc.,” Zippay says. “We’re also looking at the distinctive language of the moving image. For example we have works by the artist Michael Bell-Smith in which he’s referring to a well-known graphic and published work by the artist Ed Ruscha, or the John Baldessari work that is commenting on the art and process of painting, or the Joan Jonas work that uses electronic drawing.”
Beginning in the hotel lobby, Leslie Thornton’s Binocular Menagerie high-definition video hypnotically pulls the viewer into a colorful kaleidoscopic world. Thornton does this by framing two complementary videos in side-by-side circles. One circle shows colorful birds, reptiles and mammals, while the other mimics those naturally occurring colors in evolving starbursts.
One could easily while away several minutes, mesmerized by the display. Perhaps the best vantage point to do so is while gently swaying on Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hörbelt’s irresistibly inviting blue resin Swing, to the left as you enter the hotel from Collins Avenue.
Toward the middle of the lobby, Bell-Smith’s Three Slideshows After Ed Ruscha and The Networked Computer plays off Internet search and send computer programs. To the far right in the lobby, Jacolby Satterwhite uses 3-D animation, video and performance art to document his personal mythology in The Country Ball. Using home videos of a family cookout and his mother’s drawing, Satterwhite creates what he calls “a Hieronymus Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights” landscape.
By the elevator, Alex Hubbard plays with the art of creation in his Collapse of the Expanded Field I – III. From an aerial view we see the artist first arrange some flowers, then smash the vase. Then he spray paints the debris-strewn area and wipes it away with a cane. He then wraps other objects and uses them to mop up paint. These transformations represent a lot of what baffles the average viewer regarding contemporary art, while conveying in simple terms the act of creation.
Nearby, Takeshi Murata’s minute-long video EAI Intro is akin to peeking into a time capsule from the 1960s, with black-and-white archival footage that include snapshots of Paik working on his own video project. Originally created in 2011 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Electronic Arts Intermix, the video, which underwent an update this year, highlights five decades of moving image art.
The hotel’s screening room provides ample space for the earliest work on display, a collaboration between acclaimed chorographer Merce Cunningham and filmmaker and former dancer Richard Moore created in 1968. The nearly hourlong work, Assemblage, was originally produced on 16mm film that was later transferred to high-definition video and features Cunningham dancing with his company in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, with a soundtrack by John Cage, David Tudor and Gordon Mumma.
“You see the innovative and astonishing visual effects, the collage effects,” Zippay says. “It’s a pioneering piece.”
Baldessari’s totally silent half-hour film, Six Colorful Inside Jobs, holds sway over the lounge area. As seen from overhead, a workman dressed completely in white paints the four walls and floor of a windowless room on six subsequent days in six different colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet — in this playful exploration of art through color, performance and paint.
The lounge is prime viewing space for a variety of videos. Along with Baldessari’s, there are works by Nan Hoover, Joan Jonas and Steina.
Hoover’s Selected Works are amazingly minimalist videos. In one she appears to be drawing with light by simply moving her index finger. Jonas’ paean to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge is a visual poem that merges photography and electronic drawing to create beautiful imagery, Zippay says, adding that Jonas is slated to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2015.
Icelandic-born artist Steina has two videos on display in the lounge. In Summer Salt, she uses a variety of techniques, such as experimenting with a mirrored lens or strapping a camera to a moving bicycle, to provide the viewer with unexpected perspectives. Her Orka video employs a tracer device that records micromovements in nature, allowing the artist to digitally draw the paths taken by birds or waves. These calligraphic compositions move between real and recorded images, playing with reality and perception.
The Gallery Dining Room hosts Weiner’s Deep Blue Sky video. The animated video is a stylized tic-tac-toe game that references oblique philosophical maxims, such as “That of which there is no trace does not enter into the equation.” It could be perceived as sad commentary that he who leaves nothing behind — whether good or bad — becomes irrelevant in death.
The Game Room affords visitors the opportunity to watch Paik’s Global Groove, Dara Birnbaum’s Pop-Pop Video (which appropriates imagery from General Hospital, Olympic Women’s Speed Skating, Kojak and a TV commercial for the Wang Corporation); and Shana Moulton’s Sand Saga, in which the artist’s alter ego experiences a new dimension after she applies a facial mask.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the exhibit is that guests who book a stay at the hotel can enjoy a private viewing of those three videos in their rooms.
And that could be a lasting treat, says hotelier Taplin. “In the rooms that could be forever,” she says of closed-circuit showing. “Or, we could leave it up for a year and then change it up.”
If you go
What: ‘Screen Play: Moving Image Art,’ a collaborative effort with New York-based Electronic Arts Intermix and the Sagamore Hotel.
Where: Sagamore Hotel, 1671 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
When: Through March.
Info: 305-535-8088. Free and open to the public, both self-guided and docent-guided tours. For a guided tour with a docent, make arrangements at least 24 hours in advance with Catalina Aroca, firstname.lastname@example.org.