ON A RECENT SUNNY WEDNESDAY, I walked by the skateboarders riding in front of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and descended to the dark auditorium just in time to hear director Ferran Barenblit introduce Video Data Bank’s Abina Manning. Manning had selected works by women artists—Hermine Freed, Lynda Benglis, Barbara Aronofsky Latham, Suzanne Lacy, Linda Mary Montano, and Susan Mogul, all pioneers of video art in the 1970s—who had taken advantage of the emergence of Sony’s Portapak camera. The grainy, poignant experimental films made a couple of people flee, but mostly they found a sympathetic audience of hard-core video lovers and art historians who had arrived in Barcelona for the LOOP Video Fair, opening the next day in Hotel Catalonia Ramblas.
On a quick registration stop there, we found, in the flesh this time, more video pioneers: artists Berta Sichel—“It’s like going back home for Christmas”—Don Foresta, Chip Lord, Mary Lucier, and Beryl Korot, along with curator Anne-Marie Duguet, in a jolly reunion (with gin and tonics) at the hotel bar.
“He represents the history of video art in Spain,” said LOOP founding codirector Emilio Álvarez of curator Eugeni Bonet. We had walked with Duguet, a historian of the same subject, to the patio of Fundació Gaspar for Paul McCarthy’s opening of racy, figurative viscera. Gorging on Barcelona’s picturesque streets and last sunlight, we strolled with Centre Pompidou curator Coline Davenne and collectors Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître to the LOOP dinner at the Sky Restaurant Marea Alta, located atop the only business tower in the barrio El Raval. “You know, it makes sense we collect video, since we started with etchings—it is the same principle, all editions,” Isabelle Lemaître told us.
The next day the fair opened to a studious crowd. “This is the only place where people actually sit down and watch the videos,” LOOP devotees often say. Indeed, I sat through the fifty-three minutes of Progress vs. Regress, 2016, by Melanie Bonajo, presented at Galerie Akinci. It shows short interviews of people seventy years old and up along with a dialogue among a group in their twenties on the use of technology.
Banal theme, yet mesmerizing. But was it video art? I thought it was an appropriate debate to have here, until collector Günter Ketterer of videokunst.ch reminded me of Gilles Deleuze’s definition of the genre—“a moving image and a moving viewer”—and argued for its strict compliance. Not all the works adhered to this standard, but the forty-five invitation-only presentations included works by more vanguardists, such as Steina and Woody Vasulka’s 1973 Golden Voyage, presented by Berg Contemporary, and Yona Friedman’s animation shorts from 1960 to 1961, at once whimsical and brutal, at Galerie Jérôme Poggi. There were also a few premieres, including Rafaël Rozendaal’s Selected Websites, a loop of websites that looks like abstract screen savers, at Steve Turner via Los Angeles. One video per room/gallery, with visitors seated on beds, couches, or luggage benches, we continued our two-day viewing marathon.
“They probably ask for your boarding pass,” joked someone in the slow queue letting us into the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), where we were taken for a late opening of David Claerbout’s Olympia (The Real-Time Disintegration into Ruins of the Berlin Olympic Stadium over the Course of a Thousand Years), 2016, and a dinner (of cheese, canapés, and succulent fideuà) with a view of the regal stone staircase extending from the avenue of Reina Maria Cristina on the hill of Montjuïc. In spite of the imposing majestic view and decor—a giant inclined mirror served as both wall and ceiling, reflecting people and lights—the dealers, collectors, and artists had a casual, jolly time.
At the end of the fair’s second and final day, the Fundació Tapies, showing Mario García Torres’s excellent visual essay correlating photography and politics, invited the Mexican artist to present a reading-performance inspired by Oriol Vilanova’s 2012 series of postcards, “Sunsets From,” on display at the museum. For such a short fair, there was a plethora of events around town. Before the farewell lunch on the beach that Saturday—wine, soft breeze, sun, and paella on the terrace of the Palmito restaurant—guests lounged on the low roof of Arts Santa Mònica on Las Ramblas, where we saw “(Re)viewed, (re)visited: A re-reading of the beginnings of Spanish video art,” with works by Eugènia Balcells, Antoni Muntadas, and Carles Pujol.
As I left Barcelona to catch Jia Aili’s solo at the Contemporary Art Center Málaga—a group of large-format realist paintings, such as dystopian landscapes in which technology is at once anxious and majestic—I mulled over something Muntadas had said: “Ideology is not behind the video but behind the person. Video is ultimately a neutral tool.” At LOOP, a perhaps too-familial family affair where video aficionados gather to genuinely watch and discuss the work, it seems the ideology behind the tool needed some regeneration.