Gerry Schum

A Space Gallery

In 1969, Gerry Schum, the German video and broadcast pioneer, presented over Berlin television a video program entitled “In Land Art,” which he had made with Marinus Boezem, Jan Dibbets, Barry Flanagan, Richard Long, Walter De Maria, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. The following year, Schum broadcast “Identifications,” another co-production he had made with Joseph Beuys, Daniel Buren, Gilbert and George and Mario Merz among others. These two programs comprise the bulk of Schum’s retrospective, which was organized by Dori ne Mignot of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

Schum was optimistic about the value to artists of new communications technology. Speaking of his broadcast project, he said, “Television would seem, thanks to the medium of film and even more to the communication system, to be eminently suited to serve visual art in the same way the press and publishing serve literature and the gramophone industry serves music. . . .” But taken in by the apparent populism of TV, Schum unfortunately never understood the complexities of the medium’s cultural industry. A romantic, he was determined to communicate with the “masses.” The main problem with Schum’s programs is that in them content floats free of the medium—which is not, as Schum believed, videotape, but rather television. The works seem to have more to do with sculpture and painting than mass media. In Franz Erhard Walther’s Defining Proportions, his life-sized hands delimit the edges of the screen, tentatively illustrating two-dimensional space in three-dimensional terms. Reiner Ruthenbeck’s Paper, also from “Identifications,” moves into the space delineated by Walther’s hands. In it, Ruthenbeck crumples a stack of black paper and throws the pieces to the ground. The growing pile on the floor is quite sculptural. As the camera slowly zooms in and the black mass begins to fill the screen, though, the same pile becomes more and more two-dimensional, like a painting.

The work closest to “TV art” is Jan Dibbets’ TV as Fireplace, which was a series of eight three-minute segments of a fire in a grate, which were made to be broadcast at Christmastime. The fireplace tape made obvious reference to the place television had acquired in the home.

Both “In Land Art” and “Identifications” provide a breathtaking cross section view of work by artists who were almost alchemically changing art at that time. But regardless of the idealistic, populist aspirations Schum had for them, these tapes have not been widely shown. No one has been able to get the work on TV—and in a gallery the tapes become merely documents of themselves, flattening out to the dimensions of the catalogue that A Space produced to accompany the exhibition.

Martha Fleming