Collecting video art: Preservation, dissemination and passion for audiovisual works.

Ideas, notes and summary of the round table on video art collecting celebrated last April 12 at LABoral.

Published: Apr 28, 2014
Collecting video art: Preservation, dissemination and passion for audiovisual works.

Image: LABoral/Aida Palicio

By Laura Cano (@Via_di_uscita), La Caja Revuelta.


A round table on collecting video art was celebrated last April 12, at the assembly room of the Universidad Laboral (Gijón). This panel was organised as a side event to the show Universo Vídeo. The magic of images, which opened the day before in the afternoon at LABoral Centro de Arte.


Moderated by the assistant curator of the show, Alfredo Aracil, it featured exceptional speakers: Benjamin Weil, Director of activities at the Art Centre of Fundación Botín, Santander, and former director of activities at LABoral; Jean Conrad and Isabelle Lemaître, Collection Lemaître, Paris; the artists Louidgi Beltrame and Maïder Fortuné, which take part with their work in the exhibition and Cristina Cámara, of the department of video and film department of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.


I had the chance to attend and listen to everything that was said there. I find this topic very interesting and relevant, as both in public institutions and private collections, video works imply new challenges and paradoxes which force a revision of the way of doing, collecting, exhibiting and preserving.


Image: LABoral/Aida Palicio


The activity began with the intervention of Benjamin Weil who, based on his experience as curator at several institutions such as SFMoMA, proposed several ideas and conclusions which he has reached over the years. In his view, collecting video is collecting the intangible. Away from this fetishism for objects that seems to rule when it comes to acquiring more traditional works, collecting video consists of purchasing a file. You are paying for a support but what you are buying is “intangible art”.


As curator, the way he chose to face conservation issues was to change the support, but always keeping the previous original. This way the same work generates lots of documentation and, at the same time, it adapts to new supports so that it can always be exhibited without loosing any content. However, he thinks that it is important to go beyond the tangible: What really matters is the artistic intention and this must be a priority in terms of exhibiting or preserving each work. This artistic intention probably will need to be reinterpreted over time in order to adapt to the new context.


In the current world, where internet allows to disseminate this type of work in a practically free-of-charge and democratic way, it is necessary to re-think the concept of limited edition. According to Weil, when a piece of work is disseminated over the network, the artist looses control of its mode of exhibition. Or may be there are several exhibition modes, several realisations for the same work, that the artist must anticipate.


The following intervention was by the video art collectors Isabelle and Jean Cornad Lemaître. The French collectors, a lovely couple I must say, summarised their experience as collectors. They started 40 years ago buying engravings and paintings. They started buying contemporary art when they were in Madrid, with the help of Soledad Lorenzo. As this was in the 1980’s, they had the opportunity to meet great Spanish artists that returned after spending some years abroad, thus bringing along international influences. One of them was my admired José Guerrero. In the 1990’s they shifted towards photography and then towards video. They believe it is a natural evolution that their collection has undergone.


In 1996 they purchased their first video. A work by the English artist Gillian Wearing. In 2006, La Maison Rouge / Fondation Antoine de Galbert, exhibited for the first time the video pieces included in their collection at a cultural institution. The show was curated by Christine Van Assche, curator at Centre Pompidou.



Their motivations to collect video are the following: Because it is an art of their time; it allows them to follow the evolution of young artists and support their careers; it is a vivid, present and immediate form of expresion.

The preservation of works is an aspect they have to look after. They do it in a natural way. They want to preserve their works for they want to continue enjoying them. They preserve their works just like they preserve “the ceiling of their house”. In order to do so, they are advised by professionals.

Then, the video artist Maïder Fortuné who takes part in the show with her work Curtain!(2008), read a text she had written about Oscar Wilde’s The portrait of Dorian Gray.


Louidgi Beltrame and Maïder Fortuné. Image: LABoral/Aida Palicio


Louidgi Beltrame, another artist included in the show, explained how he manages his work: He tries that the first exhibition be rigorous and that his guidelines are observed. When a collector acquires it, he writes a protocol, an instructions manual for its proper assembly and exhibition. A Fine Arts graduate, he needs to be assisted by technicians to get the desired effect in every exhibition. He has often used 16mm and Super 8 formats, however he admits the value and potential of the digital format, not only for preservation or as a file, but also to achieve very specific effects and results. He emphasised the work of private collectors in the dissemination and preservation of the works, and in the promotion of young artists.


The presentation of Cristina Cámara explained the vision of institutional video art collecting, the case of Reina Sofía. In her opinion, one of the main challenges for including an audiovisual work in traditional institutions is to adapt the registration form, to define its category of work. For this reason, for a long time they have ended up as files in libraries or media libraries.


The first work registered in the collection of the Reina Sofía is Slowly Turning Narrative by Bill Viola, in 1994 (twenty years later than MoMA, TATE and Pompidou). The next one was in 98, Turbulent by Shirin Neshat.



In 2004 the collection includes only 16 works, however the steady exhibition programme is quite ambitious. There was no curator and the audiovisual service was not integrated in the collection department. The turning point was the exhibition curated by Berta Sichel Primera generación: Arte e imagen en movimiento (1963-1986), in 2006. At this point, the museum makes an effort to acquire works by these pioneers to be the basis of the audiovisual collection: 30 video installations, 8 single-channel videos.


Since then, several standards for the inclusion of audiovisual works in the collection are introduced. The service of cinema and video is created within the department of the collection, that is started by herself. In order to do so, it is necessary to re-define the way to register and catalogue works. This implies the need to establish new strategies with other departments, such as restauration, education and the centre of documentation.


With the arrival of Manuel Borja-Villel, again new guidelines are implemented to foster the inclusion and management of audiovisual and filmmaking works (filmmaking works will be included in the collection and a close collaboration with Filmoteca Nacional will take place). As a result of this between 2004 and 2008 400 works have been acquired. Moreover, a new service have been created: Performance arts and intermedia.


The conservation department makes a great effort to find a solution for the obsolescence of formats and supports. Works are currently being transferred to LTO format.


Cristina Cámara and Jean-Conrad Lemaître. Image: LABoral/Aida Palicio


Q&A Session:


The debate covered issues that concern both institutional and private collectors: Conservation of works and how to solve the issues related with the obsolescence of supports. This topics had also been discussed, although in a more informal and informative way, at the III meeting and debate forum Arte y un café, on February 20 and 21 in Madrid.


Benjamin mentioned some examples of the SFMoMa to emphasise the idea that what matters is the artistic intention, over formats and equipment. The mision of the museum, and its obsession, is to acquire works and preserve them for ever. This is a challenge conservators must constantly face.


Isabelle and Jean Conrad, follow the advice of the artist, but in their private circle, when they organise projections at their place, the exhibition is adapted to that context. They purchase the works because they like them, for this reason, they want to preserve them as good as as possible but based on very basic ideas. They purchase art based on their personal taste and on the knowledge they have acquired visiting galleries, trade fairs and the circuit of contemporary art. They choose works by young artists in order to support and act as patrons of art of young talents. They do not see the Internet as a threat that should bring down the value of their works, but rather as a great means for the documentation and dissemination of video creation.


Jean-Conrad and Isabelle Lemaître. Image: LABoral/Aida Palicio


Cristina Cámara, from the point of view of institutional collectors, told us that they try to gather as much information as posible with the artist (when the artist is still alive) in order to solve potential problems regarding preservation and exhibition. In the case of dead artists like Nam June Paik, they try to preserve the very meaning of the work, which, in some cases includes its supports. The museum establishes clear guidelines for the acquisition of works based on the need to complete the collection and on the general lines of work of the museum. They purchase at ARCO, but also through other channels: Artists, galleries…in many cases, the museum itself adds value to the work of certain artists.


To the question by Óscar Abril (Director of Activities at LABoral) , about the need to disseminate works on the web site, as they are publicly-owned, Cristina explained that the fight regarding copyrights, which is the activity of Vegap, so far makes it impossible to upload works on the web site. So far they are working to make it possible to view all works at the media library.


MaÏder and Louidgi raised the need for artists to think about the preservation of their works, although they admitted that eternal preservation is a utopian dream. As time passes it is necessary to re-think and re-contextualise the works. They gave the example of the exhibition of works from other centuries at museums, in other words, out of the context they were created for, that obviously need the updating of meanings and artistic intentions.


Jamie Sordo, who took part in the Q&A session, pointed out that video represents less than 5% of Spanish private collections, and in his opinion, this is because it is necessary to have a very specific knowledge to purchase video creations.


Of course, there are more questions, ideas and opinions raised during the round table that I am not including here. Nevertheless, I hope that this summary may give you an idea of the questions that video art collectors, private or institutional, have to deal with now. What difficulties they must face and what are their motivations to purchase audiovisual works.

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