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With videos, high art meets high-tech

Aging formats and rights agreements ensnarl the growing video art genre.

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Home installation can be a challenge. Mr. Conklin, who bought his first piece in 2001, was forced to run wires behind walls and test bearings for his monitors. In his house today, video runs either continually or upon request. Special pieces, such as Jeremy Blake’s “Liquid Villa,” will receive showings mostly at dinner parties when Conklin pops in the DVD on the dining room’s flat screen.

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Since the artwork is intangible, Conklin says he is “concerned about the longevity.” DVDs will wear and fail over time. His solution is to insist on two copies – a master copy that he locks up and never plays, and an exhibition copy for home use.

There is no standard contract between galleries and collectors. Video art is typically sold in very limited editions at the discretion of the artist and the DVDs are often watermarked with coding that can trace any copies back to the original owner. In case new formats overtake the DVD or computer hard drives used in installations burn out, galleries often say that they will replace the artwork in whatever new platform dominates the marketplace.

All of which makes ownership a concept with many gray areas. “It’s not the object itself that’s valuable, it’s the right to own it,” said Conklin.

To Godard, the only tangible part of his collection is the paperwork. “It’s hilarious – when I have people over, I’ll open a drawer and say, ‘here’s my artwork’ and it’s a stack of papers,” he says.

Younger artists are happy to sign those rights agreements in greater numbers than ever. Digital animation is driving the latest wave of art school graduates. They are more experimental than past generations, interested in combining media instead of focusing on just one.

For New York City artist Stephania Gambaroff, video carries a single advantage over competing media: control – artistic control at least. “When you shoot the footage, it documents reality, but then you can do all sorts of things with it,” she says. “Video contains everything within itself. The freedom it allows for expression is endless.”

The perks and perils of online galleries
Thinking of getting into video art? Consider this: To stay current, collectors spend much of their free time researching and tracking emerging artists, networking over the Internet, and visiting galleries all around the world. Besides the time investment, there is also money. Gallery prices range from a few thousand dollars for artists just out of art school to half a million for established stars.

Marketing video art to this exclusive group has traditionally meant public showings – from group shows at colleges all the way up to big commercial galleries.

Next year, however, a new venture is poised to help video artists and hosting galleries market work over the Internet.
Cybervues.com is being launched by Indiepixfilms.net, a Manhattan-based retail and distribution website for independent films. Cofounder Bob Alexander says it seemed appropriate to test the waters selling experimental video since they already had a successful platform for doing the same with feature films.

“The idea is to have a place on the Internet that’s as accessible as a gallery in Chelsea or the West Village [in New York City] on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon,” he says.

To view, users can stream art pieces for a nominal fee and then arrange to purchase an edition, either as a download or DVD.
For galleries that can’t get into New York because of the high price of real estate, the virtual space opens their doors to a global audience of collectors.

As with any new technological step forward, there are hesitations. The mass exposure makes some artists nervous about having their images and techniques so easily accessible to other artists. Video artist Stephania Gambaroff says it is one of the difficulties of the relatively young medium. Not yet represented by a gallery, Ms. Gambaroff says she faces “a challenge.”

“I have to build my audience,” she says, “but on the other hand, some of my videos have things in them that haven’t been done yet. I’m not afraid people will steal them directly. [But] we’re all in the world and get 'inspired.' "

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