ISSN: 20456298
First published in 2012
2 issues per volume
Volume 5 Issue 1-2
Cover Date: December 2016
Much ado about medium: Greenberg, McLuhan, and the formalist problem in early video criticism in New York
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Authors:  Liz Kim 
DOI: 10.1386/miraj.5.1-2.44_1

medium specificity,criticism,1970s American video art,formalism,technology,Clement Greenberg,Marshall McLuhan,Nam June Paik

Early American video history is often characterized as difficult and heterogeneous, and this is in part due to the conflicting theoretical approaches to the notion of ‘medium’. In early 1970s New York, there were two major strands of discourse on video: one saw and described video through a techno-utopian lens based on Marshall McLuhan’s media theories, and the other, still steeped in the legacies of Clement Greenberg, treated video as though it was a static, flat and plastic medium. Neither was able to adequately articulate video’s unique aesthetics, but they nonetheless dominated the American language of video during the early 1970s. These opposing views on video eventually came to a head in 1974 at the Open Circuits conference at the Museum of Modern Art, where practitioners of early video, such as Frank Gillette and Douglas Davis, faced hostility from other artists and critics such as John Baldessari and Robert Pincus-Witten. They clashed around the concept of ‘medium’, with each side accusing the other of being formalist, and these dialogues spill out onto various publications throughout the same year. The article will argue that this conflict lies at the root of American video art’s difficulty with articulating its own history.
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