Art Market

What Do You Get When You Buy a GIF? 6 Works to Collect at Moving Image

Ian Epstein
Mar 5, 2016 10:42PM

Installation view of works by Lorna Mills at Moving Image, 2016. Photo by Etienne Frossard, courtesy of Moving Image.

The sixth edition of Moving Image New York opened at the Waterfront Tunnel on Thursday, offering an array of video art, projections, and installations that evidence the breadth of moving image-based art. This variety highlights a vexing issue—moving image artworks can present challenges to even the most seasoned collectors. Many works require playback devices for their display, which artists don’t always specify explicitly or include as a part of a work itself. For viewing, a particular piece might demand anything from an obsolete 16mm film projector to a particular type of computer. So when you purchase a moving image work, what exactly are you are getting?

“We’re talking about real art: The file is real, the purchase is real, the viewing of it is real. No one ever questions if they’ve bought a wonderful piece of music by Philip Glass on iTunes—they’ve just bought the music,” says David Gryn, film curator at Art Basel in Miami Beach and director of Daata Editions, which commissions and sells moving image artworks digitally. Attitudes towards moving image-based works have been shifting in the past several years, however, and the information about how to buy and display a video file or what an acquisition of such a work entails is now more readily available than ever. “People are picking up that there’s a real conversation here—even if it isn’t something you can pick up and hold.”

Lorna Mills, Mountain Light/Time, 2015. Image courtesy of TRANSFER.


At the fair, work from 24 exhibitors available for sale offered an ideal venue for collectors to cut their teeth in the moving image-based realm. In the case of Lorna Millss work at TRANSFER Gallery, Mountain Light/Time (2015), the work in question is an animated GIF, a file format that is most familiar to individuals who grew up using the internet. “Often times a lower-resolution version of the work is prepared and circulated online by the artist, as animated GIFs are native to the browser,” explains gallery director Kelani Nichole. To put those new to the idea of acquiring GIFs at ease, the gallery supplies the work on a USB drive, which also contains 10-minute HD video loops of the GIF in several different formats. “Collectors can plug the USB directly into a single-channel display and set the video file to loop, bypassing the browser for display in their home,” Nichole says, though she notes that these pieces can be shown on any single-channel projector or similar equipment. The first edition of Mills’s GIF can be purchased for $3,000, and runs under 10 seconds, but looped; in it, the sun rises and infinitely materializes a pixelated and expanding mountain on a brilliant marigold yellow sky. (The work can also be seen nightly at 11:57pm on billboards in Times Square for the rest of March as Times Square Arts’s Midnight Moment.)

Backtracking from GIFs to the early days of analog video signals, LoVid—the name for artist duo Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus—bring the history of their electric medium directly into their video work cell-a-scape (2015). “As with most of the works represented by EAI, this work is un-editioned,” explains Electronic Arts Intermix’s executive director, Lori Zippay. “It is available for acquisition by collectors and institutions through an archival license agreement.” Priced at $3,000, cell-a-scape arrives as a 10-bit, uncompressed digital video file, or the preferred format of the acquiring party (such as a USB drive or Blu-ray disc). In cell-a-scape, muted neons and jagged bands of psychedelic color undulate, periodically revealing a discernible image of plants through a window, before dissipating into a wild sea of static. 

Swapping analog technicolor for digital media, French-Jamaican artist Olivia McGilchrist mines the Caribbean myth of the River Mother, a Mermaid-like water spirit, for her work from many sides (2015), in which vibrant colors overlay multi-layered scenes of Caribbean life, shot on site in the Dominican Republic. A commision of the Davidoff Art Initiative, the work premiered during the opening night of this year’s fair. The 10-minute video work will be available starting in June in an edition of 16 on a USB drive and Blu-ray for uncomplicated playback on a standard television.

Taking the digital a step further into a full-blown computer application is Dark Storm Phials (2015), created by boredomresearch—the collaboration between British artists Vicky Isley and Paul Smith. This artwork is a piece of generative software, in which thin, plant-like stalks grow endlessly on a dark, otherworldly terrain. Available for €5,000–€7,500 from DAM Gallery, Dark Storm Phials never repeats itself and can easily be played on a computer. Starting the application opens up a window onto a strange and sparse world that’s never the same twice. “Purchase includes a signed certificate of the edition number, documentation material like small prints of the piece, and a USB stick with the actual software,” explains DAM Gallery director Wolf Lieser. 

Dark Storm Phials, 2015
DAM Gallery

At IRL Institute’s booth, Sergio Vega expands beyond the screen with his installation Genesis According to Parrots (2004). Amid a scattering of 10 palm plants, six small monitors sitting on pedestals play footage of what the artist describes as the testimony of several parrots’ eyewitness accounts of what happened in the Garden of Eden. Acquisition of this work, priced at $30,000, includes all of the monitors, DVD players, pedestals, and palms. “The work can also be exhibited with fewer monitors and palms if it were more appropriate in the space,” explains Marla Rosen, IRL Institute’s curator and co-director of programs.

Amalie Atkinss work at dc3 Art ProjectsThree Minute Miracle (2008), encompasses a complex installation that puts viewers in the same world as the video work on the screen. A festive-looking white-and-red felt tent, encircled by a series of white boots arranged in descending order, welcomes viewers into an intimate and insulated viewing space. Inside, a screen plays bizarre, fabulist scenarios, and across a floor of crushed glass, a bench lets two or three viewers transport themselves into a surreal world of felt and frosting. For $40,000, a buyer may purchase the tent, the glass floor, the bench, the screen, and the ability, if they let themselves, to leave this world whenever they choose.

Left: Sergio Vega, Cenesis According to Parrots (2004). Photo by Etienne Frossard. Courtesy of Moving Image and IRL Institute; Right: Amalie Atkins, Three Minute Miracle (2008). Courtesy of dc3 Art Projects.

What Moving Image and its exhibitors make plain is that collecting video art, a computer application, or a GIF, is accessible. A brief conversation with a gallerist is the best way to figure out what a work includes, allowing one to get back to the goal: living and interacting with artworks that challenge, entertain, and inspire.

Ian Epstein