How and Why to Collect Video Art

As a contemporary art expert at Christie’s once said, “collectors get confused and concerned about things that plug in.” And while it’s true for some, there are collectors like Robert D. Bielecki, New York City-based entrepreneur, angel investor, and patron of the arts, who instead of asking the questions, can answer them. With works by Jim Campbell, Leo Villareal, Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, and Casey Reas in his home, and as a benefactor of Electronic Arts Intermix and the Park Avenue Armory and a large supporter of contemporary video art fair, Moving Image, Bielecki has a reputation for patronage, particularly his support of video artists and their galleries. In a chat with Artsy, Bielecki offers genuine advice for collectors, from practical solutions on displaying works to the top tips every new collector absolutely must know.

Artsy: What makes video art collectible—or what would you tell a new collector who is weary that the works are reproducible, or aren’t unique objects?    

Robert Bielecki: Although video art is a recent development in art history, it allows for a unique and differentiated experience from other mediums such as painting, sculpture, etc. Its durational nature requires a longer commitment of time on the viewer’s part to render an aesthetic judgment.

While it’s technically possible to pirate video art (particularly art created in the digital age), it’s rare and I’ve never personally encountered it. Owners who have spent thousands of dollars tend to zealously protect their collection.  

Also, I’ve yet to meet a “casual acquirer” as the medium doesn’t lend itself to specific decorative considerations. Viewing requires an act of self-assertion; turn on monitor, insert disc or click on file, sit and watch. Further, editions tend to be small; three or five (more rarely 10) with two artist proofs, and purchases are governed by contracts protecting both buyer and seller.

Artsy: What are the most important factors to consider when buying video art?

RB: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. What’s the edition size? Are the editions priced differently (i.e. does edition three cost more than edition one, etc.)? What formats are available? Does the work come with a certificate of authenticity and an archival copy? Is there a need to future proof in light of rapidly changing technologies and formats? It’s not hard although it does require due diligence.

And as a side note to artists, presentation matters. A beautifully crafted case draws attention to the work and encourages viewing in a way that a plain DVD case lost on a shelf fails to achieve.

Artsy: How can a collector incorporate video and moving image works into their home?

RB: Audio, video, and computer technology is simultaneously improving and dropping in price. A quality monitor, Blu-ray player, and Mac mini are eminently affordable. With a little ingenuity, setup can be seamlessly integrated into any home. Yes, it is possible to eliminate cord clutter. Place the monitor where there are the fewest impediments to absorbing and enjoying your video art. Like all good art, repeat viewings reveal fresh insights.

Artsy: When and how did you begin collecting video art/moving image works—and what was your first piece?

RB: My interest in video was a natural outgrowth of my fascination with film, technology, and contemporary arts culture in general. Although I can’t remember my first acquisition, I distinctly recall the work of Kate Gilmore as critical to my evolution. She addresses a multiplicity of socio-cultural issues in an inventively colorful style. I donated the set from her work Blood from a Stone to the Brooklyn Museum.

I’ve become so enamored of video’s limitless potential that I’m currently exploring a collaboration with artist Constance DeJong on a video edition of her brilliant performance piece Speakchamber.

Artsy: Why do you feel more and more collectors are focusing on video art? How do you see the market with continue to grow?

RB: We are the grandchildren of the moving image era and a rise of interest in video art is a natural correlation. As innovative editioning methods evolve, barriers to participation continue to subside.  I’ve acquired some excellent work from emerging artists at very reasonable prices.

Artsy: What are your top tips for aspiring or new collectors?  

RB: Buy what you love and you’ll never make a mistake. Trust your instincts. Exercise viewing patience. Don’t necessarily expect a linear narrative. Understand your budget and make sure you comprehend the details of any transaction (format, edition size, COAs, etc.).

Artsy: What emerging artists should we look out for?

RB: There are so many interesting artists working in video today. Keep your eyes open (no pun intended) for Jesse Fleming, Oded Hirsch, Mihai Grecu, Pernille With Madsen, and Boru O’Brien O’Connell.

Robert D. Bielecki is a New York City-based travel technology entrepreneur and angel investor. A patron of the arts with a concentration in new media, video as well as creative improvised music and contemporary composition; recent activity includes: lead sponsor of Issue Project Room’s 10th year anniversary, benefactor of the Park Avenue Armory, underwriter of music programming at JACK NY, benefactor of the Electronic Arts Intermix, Executive Producer of several upcoming recordings by Ideal Bread, Jemeel Moondoc and the Evan Parker / Sylvie Courvoisier duo. His art collection includes work by Jim Campbell, Leo Villareal, Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, Ken Jacobs, Edward Burtynsky, Erin Shirreff, Casey Reas, Huma Bhabha, Ligorano/Reese, among many others.

Last image, at right: Screen capture from Daniel Rozin's Mirror No. 10, courtesy bitforms gallery and Robert Bielecki

Collect video art from Moving Image New York 2014 on Artsy.

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