Gerry Schum Tapes (1981)

“Gerry Schum Tapes,” Parachute, no. 22 (Spring 1981), pp. 46-47.

Gerry Schum Tapes
A Space, Toronto 3 – 29 November, 1980

In view of all of this it is fair to attribute a truly pioneering spirit to Gerry Schum. And now, ten years later, a successor has yet to emerge who can follow up his ideas: — to make original works of art for television;
— to present these works of art in the form of television exhibitions;
— to obtain facilities to actually broadcast these works of art;
 — to set up a television gallery to produce the works;
— to establish a video gallery to produce and sell videotapes;
— to start a video gallery in a museum for the purpose of collection, exhibiting, producing and distributing.

Historical models related to Gerry Schum or Art/Tapes/22 cannot be repeated: the heroic period is over. [1]

The Gerry Schum videotapes shown at A Space as part of a travelling exhibition organized by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam [2] come as much a promise as a document. In their origin in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, these tapes promised a direct and immediate communication, without intermediary of galleries, critical commentary, etc., of artists’ work made expressly for television. Thus, we have the attributions of the first quotation and its question of the fulfillment of Schum’s ambitions and example. The present circulation of these tapes in art museums and artist-run spaces is evidence of failure of their intent (an “heroic” failure known to Schum in his lifetime); there was no cable or broadcast of the tapes in Toronto, whether for lack of interest or effort: hence, the second quotation. As such, they are now, for us, documents of artists’ work, from a very specific period, made for, or recorded by, film or video (Land Art and Identifications are film transferred to videotape; the later single artists’ tapes were made as video [3]), not art trans-missions in their original context. (The question as to whether they function as art outside transmission, or even, whether they are art or documents, or whether Schum is an artist, artist-collaborator or technician-realizer seems unimportant to me.)

As documents, they are contemporary to, or follow shortly, those of the exhibition Earth Art, Ithaca, 1969, from which Schum drew four artists; Arte Povera, published by Germano Celant the same year, which shared the artists of both Land Art and Identifications; Harald Szeemann’s Live in your head: when attitudes become form, Kunsthalle Berne, 1969; and MOMA’s Information exhibition of 1970 in which the film Land Art was shown. This proliferation of record reflected not only the aesthetic discourse on the “dematerialization of art,” to use Lucy Lippard’s contemporary phrase, but also an urgent desire on the part of artists to subvert the commodity status of their work, and thus to reorient its relation to the gallery and public. The different forms of documentation and distribution, at the same time, could not be separated from the concern of the artists to bring work more directly under their own control.
The title of the Berne exhibition puns on the intersection of ruptures in the artistic and social realms. “Live in your head” plays conceptual art into pop, counter-culture; “when attitudes become form” functionally describes the artists’ concerns. Together they con-dense the rapid development of Schum’s work from one influence to the other, from television as a social act of dissemination of new art to art works as television.

The first film—Land Art—was conceived in the media positivism of McLuhan’s global village, post-1968 student democracy, and an expansionist western economy, and was transmitted just prior to the American moon landing. Television exhibition was thought to be unproblematic; although diffusion to a mass audience was the aim, Schum said in the introduction to the “television exhibition”: “These artists are not concerned primarily with exploiting the possibilities of communications offered by the mass media”; and the art was thought to push the limits of painting, i.e., traditional aesthetics: landscapes were now the canvases marked by artists. As a consequence, “Objects of this nature are just as unclassifiable in the traditional terms of art as they are in the art market. The eternal triangle of studio, gallery, col-lector, in which art has taken place up to now, has been broken. Instead of private ownership of art, there is now communication with a larger public by means of publication or art broadcasting.”

For all his optimism, Schum found that the imposing scale of the landscape, e.g., Walter de Maria’s “Two lines three circles in the desert”, disguised the artists’ conceptions: “The ideas which had been reduced to a minimum, just as the gestures of the artists, were wrapped up in the landscape. In this way even the most radical idea became reconcilable.” Perhaps in reaction to his earlier films, Schum avoided showing the artist or studio atmosphere in Land Art (with one exception), rather concentrating on the presentation of work through an unobtrusive reproductive medium. So, in Identifications, Schum passed from earth art to conceptual-process art, from index of artist’s activity to the identification between work of art, artist and activity: “The work of art loses its autonomy and can no longer be separated from its producer, i.e., the artist.” Rather than the absence of the object, video restored the presence of time; temporality was introduced as an identification of the limits of material, space and body in action. Formal and temporal dimensions are equivalent; documentation and presentation are one. Even the form or limit of a work might be regulated by the frame of the television screen.

Ten years later, conditions and strategies have changed. Artists now are interested in exactly what Schum primarily was not—“the possibilities of communication offered by the mass media.” While the work similarly may be made for television, as in A Space’s own “Television by Artists” series, much of it is directed to ideological critique, through analysis or inhabitation of media. In Canada, at least, Schum’s ideas have been paralleled by those of video artists: there are artists’ distribution and production centres, although galleries and museums have shown little support.

1. Mignot, Dorine, “Introduction,” Gerry Schum, (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1979), pp. 71-72. Bicocchi, Maria Gloria, Use and Misuse of Videotape in Europe”, Parachute, number 8 (Autumn 1977), p. 27. All quotations in the review are from Schum’s introductions to the television exhibitions of Land Art and Identifications.
2. The exhibition travelled to the Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Kolnische Kunstverein, Cologne; Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent; Vancouver Art Gallery.
3. Land Art, broadcast by Sender Freies Berlin on April 15, 1969, included Marinus Boezem, Jan Dibbets, Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Walter de Maria, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson and Identifications, broadcast by Siidwestfunk, Baden-Baden on November 30, 1970, included Giovanni Anselmo, Joseph Beuys, Alghiero Boetti, Stanley Brouwn, Daniel Buren, Pierpaolo Calzolari, Gino de Dominicis, Ger van Elk, Hamish Fulton, Gilbert & George, Gary Kuehn, Mario Merz, Klaus Rinke, Ulrich Riickriem, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Richard Serra, Keith Sonnier, Franz Erhard Walther, Lawrence Weiner, Gilbert Zorio. Buren and Fulton withdrew after the first broadcast; Serra and Sonnier had contributed their own films. Schum collaborated again with a number of these artists and with Keith Arnatt, John Baldessari and Wolf Knoebel.