Reflections about `La magia de las imágenes´

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "La magia de las imágenes", this article reflects upon the video art market and summarises the interview of curator Benjamin Weil with internet users on twitter last week.

Published: Apr 14, 2014
Reflections about `La magia de las imágenes´

Speedway, 2006,Jean-Michel Pancin © Jean-Michel Pancin

Por Naiara Valdano, Art Gossips, @art_gossips.

The early 1960s were a time for experimenting, but it was not until 1965 that the Japanese company Sony released in the North American market a device that changed that period: A portable semi-professional video camera called Portapak. For the first time, artists had the opportunity to record with their own hands what they wanted and then watch the result on their TV sets.

Legend has it that Nam June Paik got himself one of those first portable cameras and took his first footage on October 4, 1965: He took images of the visit of Pope Paul IV to New York City from a moving taxi. A few hours later, these images where presented in the coffee shop Au Go Go, an event that had been previously announced by distributing brochures where the artist anticipated the artistic future of video: “Just like collage has displaced oil painting, the catatonic ray tube will replace canvas” (1). Since then many creators have followed pioneers like the Korean artist, using video technology as their medium and their language as the means to express what they want.

Thanks to its relevance in recent decades, video art has been able to enter the exhibition halls of many cultural institutions and museums, although it is still not well positioned in the art market. As Carlos Fajardo puts it “Despite its particular synthesis of time and space; light, movement, plasticity and music, as well as its reflective potential about media culture or the emotional universes of creators, video has not been able to convince completely the pragmatic consumers of art”. And he continues: “at the time of investing, collectors still prefer, in general, paintings by recognised artists, and just a few dare to buy these expensive DVDs (…) that are the support for the ideas of videocreators” (2).

Elena Vozmediano confirmed these ideas in her article There is no secondary market of video art published two months ago. In this text, the cultural journalist states that we continually receive information indicating that collectors take no risks when it comes to purchasing, mentioning, as an example, the specialised auction celebrated last January 29 at Hotel Drouot in Paris: “It was a fiasco. The dealer and antiques dealer Vicent Wapler, the organiser, put up for auction 159 lots, out of which only the 30% were awarded. It was not one of those auctions were millions change hands in a frenzy: The total estimate of the works was between €525.000 and €600.000 and the amount reached by the 48 works that were sold was €46.680. The venue was crowded…but just a few would bid. The most expensive work was Antena Buda, by Nam June Paik, which is not a video per-se, but an oil painting on canvas with tv antennas on top”. And to top it all, Elena finishes her article mentioning some data disseminated by Artprice some years ago, in 2011: “In the first half of this year, contemporary art total sales was €497 million, out of which 32 million corresponded to photography and 4 million to new media. Less than 1%” (3).

All these comments are not very reassuring (or encouraging) for the development of a powerful market related the new technologies. But, why do collectors still show reservations against video? I believe there might be several reasons, but there are mainly two obvious ones:

  • A lack of cultural education: The limited presence of contemporary art in educational centres and the scarce dissemination of the new trends in our country have not helped to encourage purchasers to take risks. Many know who is Goya or Velázquez, but they are unaware of names like Bill Viola or Tony Ousler.
  • Format: A video implies some complexities related with its format, which are unfamiliar for traditional collectors. Firstly, we deal with the concept of copy: a painting is exclusive because it is hand-made and almost handicraft, but a video can be played and copied on several formats. Purchasers tend to dislike this aspect: Many believe that if they are going to spend so much money on an art work, it should be, at least, unique. Secondly, there is the complexity to exhibit it: Whereas a painting can be exhibited on any wall of a room as a decoration element for any guest to enjoy its quality, a video needs a monitor or screen, thus its exhibition is conditioned by the existence of favorable factors.


Despite this, some collectors are rare cases in the world of art and decide to take risks and buy works which are still considered not at all conservative. In Spain we have the example of Emilio Pi y Helena Fernandino, a couple of entrepreneurs from Pamplona that live in Madrid who have been awarded the prize premio ARCO 2010 al coleccionismo de videoarte. And in France we should mention the couple Jean-Conrad and Isabelle Lemaître, whose video art collection is included in the Top 10 of the Larry´s List, one of the most important collectors’ databases in the domain of video and new media.


Jean-Conrad and Isabelle Lemaître

This French marriage started to collect art in the 1970’s, although they first focused on more traditional techniques (engravings, painting, sculpture and photography). In 1996 they turned their attention to video. Since then they have acquired works by outstanding artists (such as Tacita Dean or Mark Wallinger) and also works by new artists (such as Keren Cytter or Landau Sigalit). The collection of titles they have brought together is so impressive that they have lent their works to exhibitions in countries like France, Peru or Germany.

Part of their collection visited Spain in 2012 and was exhibited at Fundación Francisco Godia in Barcelona as part of the show The Eyes of the Soul. This year some of their pieces have returned to our country to be showcased at the Asturian art centre LABoral. On this occasion, the institution from Gijón has organised an exhibition called La magia de las imágenes showing 12 pieces by artists as diverse as Louidgi Beltrame, Patricia Esquivias, Omer Fast, Beatrice Gibson, Mika Rottenberg or Chen Chen Yu. This show opened last Friday, April 11 as part of the programme line Universo video (4) and it aims to “reflect upon the role of images in the construction of our relationship with reality, through an analysis of the medium itself. In other words, its logic and the technology it articulates in its social dimension” (5).

Benjamin Weil, former director of activities at LABoral and current artistic manager at Centro Botín, has curated this project. Just a few days ago he accepted to take part in the first interview organised by the Asturian centre on twitter, broadcasted live with the hashtag #LABentrevista. Eventhough Benjamin could not give long answers on the media network (due to the limitation in characters), thanks to this initiative internet users were able to ask Weil directly. Below you can see the result:

Question 1: Why do you think that there are so few collectors like Lemaître who invest in video art? (@art_gossips)

BW: It is very hard to collect video art, as you need technology and certain conditions to show it in indoor venues.

Question 2: How did the idea of showing part of this collection at LABoral come up? (@art_gossips)

BW: It is one of the best private video art collections in the world and it offers a very wide view of the video art of today.

Question 3: How would you define the discourse or the concept of the exhibition? (@art_gossips)

BW: It is included in the framework of Universo video, the action line of LABoral since 2011. A panoramic view of video creation.

Question 4: What process and criteria have you used for selecting the works and artists of this exhibition? (@zapatosrosas)

BW: We have closely collaborated with the Lemaîtres to imagine a narrative that reflects their way of collecting.

Question 5: Which of the 12 artists do you find more interesting and why? (@art_gossips)

BW: It is hard to choose. I like the selection we have made and each piece of work in particular.

Question 6: Who is the youngest artist of the exhibition, taking into account that the collection includes many pieces from the last decade? (@semiramis_glez)

BW: Moussa Sarr, a French artist born in Corsica with a great potential. It is one of the most recent acquisitions of the Lemaîtres.

Question 7: Which video piece included in the show reflects upon technology as a way to learn again how to view reality? (@MartaLorenzoJ)

BW: Not one in particular. I think it is interesting the concept of a creative use of contemporary technologies.

Question 8: Could you describe this exhibition in just one word? (@semiramis_glez)

BW: Thrilling!

Question 9: Which are the most common difficulties a curator must face when workin with video art? (@art_gossips)

BW: The formats required by the artists and their obsolescence, which have changed a lot from the 1970s.

Question 10: Which historic video art exhibitions that you have seen would you single out? (@art_gossips)

BW: I would highlight Passages de l´image at Centre Pompidou (around 1991). And another exhibition by Chrissie Iles, a great professional, at the Whitney in New York City (around 2001).

Question 11: Which are the most important institutions regarding their support of video art at international level? (@zapatosrosas)

BW: The most important collections of video art and experimental filmmaking are the Centre Pompidou in Paris (@centrepompidou), the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (@MuseumModernArt) or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (@SFMOMA). As well as the Electronic Arts Intermix in New York City (@eai_org).

Question 12: Any Spanish video artist who you think deserves to be taken into account? (@art_gossips)

BW: Sara Ramo makes wonderful videos and she also works with other media like many contemporary artists. But there are many of them.

Question 13: Which texts on video art would you recommend? (@art_gossips)

BW: I would recommend authors such as Chrissie Iles, Bárbara London, Christine van Asshe, Raymiond Belour or Anne-Marie Duguet, but there are more. Also the texts by Lori Zippay, director of the EAI of New York City, who curated the first exhibition of Universo video.

Just one more thing, I hope that you take the time to visit the exhibition…it is worth seeing it.


(1). Christiane Fricke: “En el cruce del arte y la industria de los medios”, article published at Arte del siglo XX: volume II; Published by Taschen, page 592.

(2). Carlos Fajardo: Motivaciones de compra en colecciones de videoarte. Article available at:

(3). Elena Vozmediano: No hay mercado secundario para el videoarte, Blog Y tú que lo veas, “El Cultural”, February 11, 2014. Article available at:

(4). Universo video is a programming line that started in 2001 and focuses on the research about video art from its origins until the present.

(5). Benjamín Weil: Universo video. La magia de las imágenes, LABoral. Article available at:

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