IN PERSPECTIVE 6: Painting and media art

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In the series In Perspectief, Erik Akkermans looks back and forth at the development in cultural policy and practice. Today: media art.

At Spui in The Hague

It was a tough debate. The battle for the meter cabinet symbolized this. The chairman of The Hague Filmhuis, a former councilor, went against it. And the board of the World Wide Video Center & Festival gave up more and more of a dream that had started so beautifully. That dream had to land in a complex designed by Herman Hertzberger at Spui, which will house a new theater and a special building – unique to the Netherlands and perhaps even to Europe – for media art. In front of that building there was a window seven times seven meters on which video art could be programmed, visible from the tram stop and from the music and dance theater on the other side (now Amare).

Halfway through the construction, however, it was clear to the municipality that the Film House on Denneweg was in the meantime in danger of going bankrupt and could no longer afford the rent. Councilor Ans van den Berg decided that Filmhuis should then move to the new World Wide Video location. This led to difficult negotiations about a forced cohabitation. It often happens for cultural institutions, and I have occasionally used the metaphor of the meter.

Keep an eye on the house

World Wide Video was created around 1980 under the name Kijkhuis, on Noordeinde in The Hague, as an initiative of Tom van Vliet and a few friends to give video art a permanent place. Kijkhuis soon established the International World Wide Video Festival, with a large number of creators from all parts of the world, some well-known, most unknown at the time. In the 1989 edition, for example, there were works by Tony Ousler, Robert Wilson, Nam June Paik, David Byrne and the Dutchman Frits Maats. In the 1992 edition, for example, Laurie Anderson and Bill Viola.

The legendary Jan Kassies was chairman of Kijkhuis and honored me with the request to succeed him. I did not know much about video art. A couple of years before, I had arranged an evening with Cas Smithuysen for the Artists’ Associations Association about “art on the tube”: art in television and ‘television’ in art. With interesting speakers, such as columnist and former VPRO director Jan Blokker, and Peter Struycken, probably the first visual artist in the Netherlands who also ventured into computer art. And there was the original father of Dutch video art, the sadly too soon forgotten Livinus van de Bunt with his son Jeep.

Many people, even in the art world itself, were for a long time contemptuous of video art: it was a hype. ‘Art with a Plug’ would soon be over. I could not imagine that, however; this art had to has a future, used to be maybe the future. In order to conquer the technique, the artists sometimes had to deal more with the ‘plug’ than with artistic content, but that was exactly what would go over. At Sydhollands Kulturråd we experimented with art on the cable, so that video art suddenly came into many ordinary living rooms, and we arranged ‘Nederland Vier’, an unusual exhibition with installations in Prinsenhof Delft.

Media art proved to be a multifaceted phenomenon that could fall in love with many other disciplines: with literature, visual arts, dance, film, photography and drama. Even with architecture as one could see in Groningen in the early 1990s at the demonstration “What a wonderful world”. Rem Koolhaas’ video bus shelter and the glass pavilion by American architect Bernard Tschumi are still visible reminders of it.

End of the festival

From year to year, Tom van Vliet made his festivals more attractive to a growing group of international artists and connoisseurs. The festival expanded across several locations and increasingly found collaboration with foreign colleagues. The international press was a regular guest. Irma Boom has designed a beautiful series of catalogs over the years. But within the well-organized world of Dutch media art, it was not possible to achieve alliances or warm goodwill, not even among The Hague Municipality and the then Arts Council. And was mutually familiar with other institutions that are often seen in start-up and / or marginal arts that ask for attention and grants, such as suckling pigs for breast milk.

It was difficult for Van Vliet to get rid of the image of difficult, inaccessible art and to counter the criticism from the Arts Council with a new policy. Finally, the festival and office left The Hague – to the delight of the Filmhuis, who could use the space – and a couple of beautiful festival editions were held in Amsterdam, in the Stedelijk Museum, Melkweg, the Terminal on IJ. Then another negative piece of advice from the Danish Arts Council put an end to it. Tom van Vliet has since been a much sought after curator of exhibitions and demonstrations in Spain, Brazil and China.

Immediately accessible and intangible

Media art is now self-evident. With occasional discussion – as with photography or ceramics – about whether it is about the medium or the art. Does ceramics stand alone as an art form, and does it matter that the work of art is made of clay? Or are material and technique completely subordinate to artistic history?

It’s both. There are artists who completely focus on one medium and never cheat. And there are those who would like to tell their story, no matter how. See Wim T. Schippers or Grayson Perry.

Media art, the multi-headed phenomenon of the early period, has become even more multifaceted. Digitization made the camera and the stand-alone computer much less important. Physical spaces mean less. Social media and NFTs make art visible to many more people, but at the same time make it more intangible in a sense.

Established forms of media art have actually become more subordinate: applications in theater, in dance, in commercial terms. The diversity of current media art and certain intangibles raise questions about presentation and collection.

Not that museums have failed. Early on, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam chose its own curator, a special space for media art, exhibitions and collaboration with World Wide Video. Other museums, such as De Pont Tilburg or Frans Hals Haarlem, were and are also active. This certainly also applies to the photo museums, including Museum Hilversum and in particular to the film institute Eye, which, for example, emphasizes the interface between film and other art forms with ‘Eye on Art’. Sound and vision Hilversum also shows interest. But is that enough, is there a line in all this?

Present and manage

In Boekman, Summer 2022, I noticed the book review of “Curating Digital Art,” edited by Annet Dekkers, who has been discussing this topic with gallery owners, museum people, and artists for at least ten years. The art form is not always tangible, but neither is the context: How important is the institutional space for media art that does not depend on institutions for its appearance? Does the Internet not offer ‘open space’? The internet is a stage and a hall at the same time, isn’t it a workshop and a gallery in one?

In the Netherlands, TV maker René Coelho’s Montevideo was the first real gallery for media art. In addition to Wies Smals’ gallery De Appel, which focused on performances, but also on video installations. Many developments and name changes later – via Time Based Art and the Netherlands Media Art Institute, among others – there is now LIMA, which preserves, distributes and researches media art. One of LIMA’s initiatives is, where a digital collection of fifty years of media art in the Netherlands has been realized together with, among others, the Stedelijk Museum and the Frans Hals Museum. Another move is to get a lot more content about media art on Wikipedia with Wikimedia and the other partners.

The question remains whether there is a need for a physical institution for media art. Think of the discussion about a museum of Dutch history. Should it really be one place, or should we make smarter use of the internet so that knowledge and images are available to all Dutch people in one go? For media art, the aforementioned museums already form nodes in both a digital and physical network. And there is the Nxt.Museum in Amsterdam, a private initiative that as an art gallery (exhibitions, not collection) shows works of art created with modern technologies. Incidentally, no room for ‘old-fashioned’ video art.

I like a physical museum that gives a broad presentation of current developments and the history of Dutch media art. Perhaps this is not necessary in the subsidized art cycle, and we can hope for the initiative of another patron, such as Museum Voorlinden, Museum More or Museum No Hero.

It is important that a museum of ‘art with plugs’ has its own painting.

Erik Akkermans

director, consultant and publicist. Until recently, he was chairman of the platform for the cultural and creative sector of the labor market Platform ACCT and previously for various other organizations. He was chairman of the World Wide Video Festival for 12.5 years and was a board member of the Tschumi Pavilion Groningen.

The famous ZKM / Center for Arts and Media Karlsruhe opened in 1989, just before the Spui complex was built.

So many years later, as chairman of Dansmakers Amsterdam, I was involved in an attempt imposed by the municipality to create a single Danshuis together with other institutions.

Non-fungible tokens, see for example

Dekkers, A. (ed.) (2021) Curating digital art: from presentation and collection of digital art to networked co-curation, Amsterdam

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