Everything You want to know about video art but are afraid to ask

Collector's Guide

Everything You want to know about video art but are afraid to ask

Marta Lisiak


We present a guide that will accompany your reflections on video art, which is a unique form of expression of female artists included in the upcoming auction "Polish Feminist Art."


What exactly is video art?


The term video art comes, of course, from the video tape on which the artists recorded songs at the time when the discipline developed in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. Its birth was directly connected to the popularization of television technology and the production of the first portable SONY Portapak camera (black and white), allowing people to record images cheaply and spontaneously. The emergence of video art was also the aftermath of conceptual art and the changes that took place in the material status of an artwork.


Currently, the concept of video art involves a form of artistic expression that uses a moving image to convey content and is recorded in any technique. A video work can be a spontaneous recording of a performance, documentation of artistic activities, a piece of found footage, a work in the genre of expanded cinema, or it can also be a narrative film.   

How is video art different from film?


ideo art involves a vast spectrum of artistic practices; thus, it can take forms similar to traditional or experimental film. Initially, artists turned to video cameras because they offered a quick way to record, project, and manipulate images, unlike professional film. One of video artists' strategies is the deconstruction of traditional film and cinematic methods (see Katarzyna Kozyra, "In Art Dreams Come True"). Additionally, video art as a form of expanded cinema extends the one-way relationship between the viewer and the screen.


How did the history of collecting video art begin?


Initially, video art was considered experimental and fell outside the scope of art market interest. The first collectors were pioneering museum collections such as the MoMA in New York and the Whitney Museum. Currently, video works can be found in every key institutional collection in Poland, including the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, the Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art MOCAK.


Video art is also part of many well-known private collections, including those of Grażyna Kulczyk, Krzysztof and Joanna Madelski, Dariusz Bieńkowski, the Signum Foundation, and Michał Borowik. It's worth noting that video works are present in major investment collections in Poland, such as ING Bank and PKO BP Bank. 


Who are the most important representatives of this discipline?


One of the pioneers of video art was Nam June Paik, who created the first video installations. Bruce Nauman, who was the first to use a camera to document his performances, is also worth mentioning. In Poland, the birth of video art is attributed to the Workshop of the Film Form in Łódź. Artists such as Józef Robakowski, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Paweł Kwiek, and Ryszard Waśko were part of this group. Around the same time, female artists such as Natalia LL, Ewa Partum, Anna Kutera, and Jolanta Marcolla began recording their actions on video.

In what form will I receive the purchased video work?


Currently, artists can store their works on various media. The most universal and secure form is a digital file saved on a USB drive. Depending on when the work was created, you may receive it on a CD, DVD, digital tape, VHS, Blu-ray, a hard drive, or even in the cloud. There is no fixed rule, and the method of delivering the work varies among artists. It could be a digital file with a certificate, a CD with a signature, or a USB drive presented in a dedicated box with an engraving.


Video works purchased at the "Polish Feminist Art" auction will be provided on USB drives.


What should I consider before choosing a specific work?


Before making a purchase, make sure to check the size and format of the work (e.g., MP4, MOV, AVI). It's worth knowing that, unlike traditional graphic techniques, the most valuable copy of a video work is often the last one in a given edition. Ideally, the chosen work should come with a certificate of authenticity. If the work is stored on VHS tape or CD, consider whether there will be a need to protect it from the passage of time and evolving technologies.


What rights do I have as the owner of a video work?


When you acquire a video work on a physical medium, keep in mind that possessing it does not grant you copyright rights. This means you have the right only for personal use of the work. An exception could be a separate agreement transferring copyright or a license granted by the artist. 


Why is it worth adding video art to your collection?


In Poland, video art emerged in the early 1970s and quickly became a widely used medium among artists. When creating a comprehensive collection of post-war art, it is challenging not to overlook new media, which are a fundamental part of the artistic practices of that time. A particular example is a collection focused on feminist art because from the beginning, video-being a practical and "virgin" medium-rapidly became a popular means of expression among female artists, enabling them to build a position equal to that of male artists.

How are video works exhibited?


In exhibitions, video works are presented in forms that depend on the artist's concept. This can include single-channel projections (looped presentations), large-format multi-screen forms (see Bill Viola), closed-circuit installations, environmental elements, video sculpture, video installations, or interactive installations. Interestingly, galleries and museum institutions, in order to preserve the authentic character of video works recorded on VHS tapes, use dedicated vintage Hantarex televisions for their display.


What is the record auction price in Poland for a video work?


In 2019, at DESA Unicum, the record was set by Dorota Nieznalska's video installation "Passion," which sold for almost PLN 420,000 (EUR 94,365).