IN PREPARATION is a series that gives an up-close view into how the Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) is preparing its collection for presentation in the new building at the Kulturforum. While the first two parts showed how major works of art were restored in public, part 3, the MediaLab, is dedicated to a whole collection complex: the truly diverse media artworks from the Nationalgalerie collection.

Special knowledge, technical equipment and infrastructure are necessary to preserve and study media artworks. The MediaLab in the Hamburger Bahnhof is the place to study media artworks and prepare them for presentation in the Neue Nationalgalerie – Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts.

In Picture and Sound

Since the 1960s, artists have worked with the most diverse media and techniques. The Nationalgalerie collection contains numerous works for which the artists used film, video, slides, sound, computer software or even the Internet. But media art content can only be taken in by viewers when the works are installed.

The Nationalgalerie collection is comprised of works from the beginnings of film and video art, such as Tapp- und Tastkino (1968) by Valie Export. It includes works by pioneers like Joan Jonas, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, and Peter Campus, who explored the possibilities of the new media. The diversity of subjects in media art can be seen clearly in 

works such as He Weeps for You (1976) by Bill Viola or Eija-Liisa Athila’s Consolation Service (1996/1999). Works of media art are extremely diverse in their content and their form of presentation. This can be seen in multi-monitor sculptures like Gary Hill’s Crux (1983-1987) or Nam June Paik’s Monument: Family of Robots (1986), and in room-filling installations like Pipilotti Rist’s Remake of the Weekend (1998) or Diana Thater’s Delphine (1999).

Media art is a focal point of the alternating collection presentation in the new building of the Neue Nationalgalerie – Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts in the Kulturforum.

German and English sub-titles can be switched on by clicking “cc” on the video screen.

Young Art that Quickly Grows Old and Wears Out

Although media art is a comparatively young art form, works can be lost due to material degradation and media players becoming obsolete. Magnetic tape can become sticky, and film can grow brittle, making them difficult to digitize. Players and replacement parts can be difficult or impossible to get and old software can’t be started anymore.

In addition, media artworks often comprise several, sometimes quite different components. Some are part of the artwork, equipment that was specially adapted, for example, and cannot simply be replaced or changed. Other parts can certainly be replaced, such as conventional performance technology like players for video works.

Shelves with many video cassettes and similar data carriers
View of the media art collection archive of the Nationalgalerie, 2020 © SPK / photothek.net / Thomas Trutschel

Exhibiting Media Art

There is more to media artwork than a media player and a screen. In order to show the work in accordance with the artist’s intention, many points have to be taken into consideration. How should the work’s components be arranged in a specific exhibition room? How large should the projection of the film or video artwork be? How high should the volume level be?

Documentation from earlier exhibitions, installation manuals or even wiring diagrams and blueprints help to answer these questions. Interviews with the artists may provide information on which aspects of the work’s presentation are important.

Two people are sitting at a table. On the table are various media carriers such as video cassettes, CD-ROMs and a case with tools for cleaning.
Diverse media formats from the media art collection of the Nationalgalerie, 2020 © SPK / photothek.net / Thomas Trutschel

Trial Run for the New Museum Building in the MediaLab

The MediaLab in the Hamburger Bahnhof is now providing the technical infrastructure for making artworks accessible again. For example, it has players for U-matic tapes, VHS cassettes, Betacam SPs, and DVDs. This makes it possible for conservators to determine the condition of analog and digital media, make quality checks and conduct other conservation measures.

The MediaLab also has room for trial installations used to check and test media art for its new location in the Neue Nationalgalerie – Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts.