_
_
_
_
_

Video art, once a thriving medium, fades to black

The genre is now disappearing from auctions and galleries, where experts are seeing a clear resurgence of painting

Art video
'Lonely vampire' (2005) by Mike Kelley, on exhibit at the Santander Art Gallery in Spain; 2015.Carlos Rosillo
Miguel Ángel García Vega

The obvious thing would be to write: “Paintings killed the video star,” a twist on The Buggles’ 1979 hit, Video Killed the Radio Star. It’s both catchy and true. Since the 2008 financial crash, video art has been gradually disappearing from fairs, private collections, auctions, and galleries. The spurned art form accounted for only 1% of sales in 2021. According to economist Clare McAndrew, the art market in 2022 grew by 5% to $67.8 billion. However, 99% of the transactions were for crypto art and non-fungible tokens (NFT), digital art that can be verified by blockchain technology. Like a drunken tightrope walker, that particular trend took a quick nosedive and video art is now back at square one. After the NFT market bubble burst faster than the 17th century Dutch tulip mania, McAndrews says the entire art market slowed down and became more cautious, which may explain the shift back to traditional media.

Exhibitors at top fairs like Art Basel (staged annually in Basel, Miami Beach, Hong Kong and Paris), where space costs up to $1,000 per square meter, believe the video art market is collapsing. “The resurgence of painting and its renewed popularity among collectors is an unmistakable trend,” said German gallery owner Esther Schipper, who works with two of the world’s top video artists, Anri Sala and Rosa Barba. “Unlike video, paintings give you a sense of introversion and introspection that balances out the constant social presence,” said Schipper, offering a reason why younger people are increasingly choosing this medium.

There is an intriguing parallel between the present and the past. During the reign of Spain’s King Felipe IV (the greatest art collector of his time), tapestries, which require a lot of time and precious material to make, cost much more than an oil painting. In 1650, the monarch paid the enormous sum of $4,370 for nine tapestries by Rafael Sanzio depicting the Acts of the Apostles. For context, a Caravaggio painting and two Francesco Fanelli bronze sculptures were valued at only $9.30 back then. The trajectory of tapestry in the art market parallels that of the video medium: it had its heyday and eventually began to fray. “Building a special space at a fair to display video art costs a lot and doesn’t usually bring much of a return. That’s why you don’t see them often,” said Pedro Cera, a Portuguese gallery owner. Today, Caravaggio’s Salomé, on display at the Royal Collections Gallery in Madrid, would fetch over €250 million if it were ever sold. Very few videos in the world are valued at even a tenth of that amount.

Moreover, video art has a problem within its own medium — technological obsolescence. Initially avant-garde, it now resembles a visual archeological artifact. “There’s actually a pretty big issue with it — the devices need to be updated,” said art curator Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro. “A VHS tape from 15 years ago is basically useless today, and you can’t just assume you can update the format without asking the artist’s permission.” Painting has the remarkable ability to endure through wars and fires, while video art struggles to withstand the test of time.

Video is rarely used by newer artists unless commissioned by a collector. Spanish collector Juan Bonet owns several video pieces but hasn’t bought any new ones in a while. “There is no secondary market, so there is no way to sell the pieces if you need to in the future.” Current geopolitics and economics aren’t helping either, with high interest rates and persistent inflation pointing to more instability on the horizon. “The market is becoming more conservative, maybe because of global uncertainty. The established artists and paintings are really taking center stage at the fairs and auctions,” said Carlos Urroz, director of the TBA21 collection (Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary).

The faint echo of the end of an era can be heard in the distance. Over 12 years, Emilio Pi and Elena Fernandino amassed 350 pieces of video art, perhaps the best collection in Europe. But doubts about video art weighed heavily and galleries struggled to sell it: how can you prevent someone from copying a CD? In the 2000s, many artists — photographers, painters and more — began making video art, thereby devaluing the whole concept. Today, producing video art is like making a movie. “These use huge facilities, and the artists basically take orders from super-rich collectors or institutions,” said Pi, who decided to donate the exclusive exhibition rights of many video art pieces to the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, which also purchased about 30. Pi and Fernandino have now set their sights on African art, the vibrant world of paintings from the continent that is currently in vogue.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_