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Watch This! Revelations in Media Art

April 24, 2015 – September 7, 2015

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The second half of the 20th century introduced an array of technologies and electronic phenomena that set art in motion. Innovations in high-fidelity stereo, broadcast television, videotape and satellite technologies contributed to the frenetic pace of social change through the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, simultaneously shattering and shaping modes of communication and expression. From the ’80s into the millennium, the electronic age burst into the digital age, opening entirely new terrain for creative exploration. Artists have fearlessly engaged these technological leaps, finding in them new modes of expression that continuously defy and redefine the boundaries of “art.”

Watch This! Revelations in Media Art presents pioneering and contemporary artworks that trace the evolution of a continuously emerging medium. The exhibition celebrates artists who are engaged in a creative revolution—one shaped as much by developments in science and technology as by style or medium—and explores the pervasive interdependence between technology and contemporary culture. The exhibition includes 44 objects from 1941 to 2013, which were acquired by the museum as part of its longstanding commitment to collecting and exhibiting media art.

Watch This! includes major works by artists Cory Arcangel, Hans Breder, Takeshi Murata, Bruce Nauman, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, Nam June Paik, Martha Rosler, Eve Sussman, Bill Viola and others that highlight the breadth of media art, including 16 mm films, computer-driven cinema, closed-circuit installations, digital animation, video games and more.

Two video games—“Flower” (2007), by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago and “Halo 2600” (2010) by Ed Fries—represent a rapidly-evolving new genre in media art. Both will be on view for the first time since the museum acquired the games in 2013. The museum is a leader in identifying video games as an art form, and it was one the first museum in the United States to acquire video games as partof its permanent collection, marking a commitment to the continuing study and preservation of video games as an artistic medium.

An exciting highlight in the exhibition is the debut of two newly uncovered works by Paik, considered the “father of video art.” An early FORTRAN computer program—the existence of which was previously unknown—developed by Paik with Bell Labs, and an early rendition of one of the artist’s famed “TV Clocks” that was long thought lost, were discovered in the artist’s archive after it was acquired by the museum in 2009. The exhibition is the first time the FORTRAN program and its related print have been exhibited to the public.

Archival materials related to the artworks on view expand on the varied and unorthodox practices among media artists. Schematic diagrams, correspondence, storyboards and other ephemera that shed light on the engineering behind custom-built electronics, broadcast performance pieces and pioneering computer programs are included in the exhibition.

The exhibition is organized by Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media arts.

Free Public Programs
Friday, April 24, 2015, 6 p.m. Artist Panel Discussion
Saturday, May 9, 2015, 3 p.m. Gamer Symphony Orchestra
Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 6 p.m. Media Arts Gallery Talk with Michael Mansfield
Wednesday, June 3, 2015, 6 p.m. Conserving and Curating Media Arts

In the News
Studio International, May 20, 2015, “Watch This! Revelations in Media Art," by Ina Sotirova
New Media International, May 14, 2015, "Watch This! Revelations in Media Art" at the Smithsonian, by George Fifield
The Washington Post, April 23, 2015, Play video games and see trippy movies at “Watch This! Revelations in Media Art,” by Sadie Dingfelder
Smithsonian Magazine, March 23, 2015, New Works by Nam June Paik Are Discovered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, by Wendy Moonan


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Watch This! Revelations in Media Art is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Altria Group, The James F. Dicke Family Endowment, Margery and Edgar Masinter, Nion McEvoy, the Smithsonian Council for American Art and Roselyne Chroman Swig. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.