Video Art After Painting
Paul McCarthy Black and White Tapes 1970-75
“At some point the history of the relationship between the traditional high-art avant-garde and the new video technology will have to be written.” —Benjamin Buchloh
There has been little definitive writing on the history of video art as video consistently eludes any type of historicization. The creation of a history was, at the outset, the larger project of this thesis. I first made the claim that the death of painting was the birth of video. This claim was convincing when looking at the changing hegemonies that took place in the art world of the mid 1960s. After all, Nam June Paik purchased the first video to be sold in New York exclaiming that video would replace the canvas. Earlier that year, Frank Stella exhibited De La Vida a La Muerte, a shaped canvas that both celebrated attributes of painting while moving toward notions of objecthood. Stella is often viewed as the last abstract painter because after Stella, there was little need for painting itself to embrace a self-critical project. The question of painting that Stella addressed no longer had any resonance. Indeed, I argued that these questions took on a life of their own, a life in video.
It was my contention that video’s brief footnote in the history of art was due to its connections and disconnections to painting. It is a contention that is relevant; yet, upon further examination, it is clear that such an argument is more complex and, at times, extremely dangerous. To declare “the death of painting is the birth of video” is to simply place video back into the neat hierarchal art historical narrative; a narrative that early video fought so definitely against. Video’s break from the narrative of painting is never clean; the struggle against this narrative is ever-present in both video writing and video works of the period. In my thesis, I discuss the value of the narrative of births and deaths in writings by Arthur Danto, Yve-Alain Bois, and Hans Belting. I examine the legacy of this narrative as well as its two-fold denial and acceptance in early video works by Joan Jonas, Paul McCarthy, John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, and current works by Jeremy Blake and Miranda July. In the end, it will be seen that the difficulty of establishing a history of video from its emergence in 1965 through its development in 1975 comes as a direct result from the crisis of painting in the same period.
Katie Geha received her BA from the University of Iowa in 2001. After graduation, Geha worked at the Pollock-Krasner Foundation in New York. While at SAIC, she curated the exhibition Oops, I Did it Again! and published a paper in the art history journal Oculus.
Thesis Advisor: David Raskin, Assistant Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Thesis Reader: Mary Patten, Assistant Professor; Film, Video, and New Media
Second Reader: Kathryn Hixson, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism