WAVEFRONT Issue Summer 1987
Why N.Y. Art World Shuns Holography
B Y D. T U L L A L I G H T F O O T
It important for us as display
holographers and therefore as visual artists to understand the
art establishment in New York City. The city remains an important center
for the U.S. and the world. It has a well structured art establishment
with many art galleries, museums and alternative exhibition spaces. New
York also is home to major art magazines which cover exhibitions and
disseminate the information coast to coast. And in terms of viewing
public, there are 7.1 million people in the city itself and 17.5 million
in the surrounding metropolitan area.
Although the number of art shows exhibiting display holography in New York has dramatically
increased in the last few years, these shows have not taken place in traditional
art galleries or museums. And little has been written about holography in traditional art journals based in New York.
Video art and computer graphics have not fared so poorly.
Does a bias exist in regards to holography? Are museum curators
and gallery owners intentionally shying away from holographic art work?
Does this have something to do with reviews and criticisms of the 1975
show of holography held at the International Center of Photography? Did
the poor reception of the medium over a decade ago stigmatize
holographic work, and is there fear that inclusion of such work would
lessen an establishment's reputation today?
There is evidence that some repercussions from that show still
exist. Cornell Capa, director of the International Center of
Photography, told me he hasn't thought about holography since the
holography show 11 years ago. Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion
and reviewer of the 1975 show for the New York Times, said he has not
seen any examples of holographic art work since he wrote about the show.
The events of 1975 (see WAVEFRONT, Vol 1:1) are known to most
art professionals interviewed and this might act as a double-edged
sword, with artists being leery of rejection on the one hand, and art
professionals fearful of controversial reviews and reception on the
other. Mark Leibowitz of the M. Knoedler and Company gallery pointed out
that if galleries didn't feel threatened by holography they would
exhibit more. Galleries are commercial enterprises and fear losing
Knoedler gallery, on East 70th Street near Central Park, exhibits
works by artists such as David Smith, Frank Stella, Jules Olitski and
Robert Motherwell. In the '70s, Knoedler represented Salvadore Dali, who
at that time decided to try his hand at holography. But his holography
was exhibited because he was a major artist already represented by
Knoedler. Leibowitz assured me that if another of the artists
represented by Knoedler chose to work in the medium the results would be
exhibited. That hasn't happened, and the reluctance of reputable artists
to use the medium adds to Leibowitz's belief that holography is not an
accepted medium. He warns that holography seems to be heading towards
commercial interests and away from fine arts.
Sonnabend gallery at 420 West Broadway in Soho has exhibited
holography in the past, but again, the work was by an artist already
represented by the gallery 1 Simone Forte--who had chosen to work in the
medium. Nick Sheidy of the gallery said holographic works have not been
exhibited since the Forte show, but if one of the gallery's represented
artists began to work in holography, the work would definitely be shown.
He also said it's possible that artists working exclusively in
holography could be shown at the gallery, but only Mrs. Sonnabend, owner
of the gallery, decides who she represents. Interested artists typically
send slides to Mrs. Sonnabend with a self- addressed, stamped envelope.
Ivan Karp, owner of the OK Harris gallery, also on West Broadway,
recently exhibited holographic work by Scott Nemtzow. Gallery personnel
say the artist has had two shows in the space. Although Nemtzow's work
is selling well, display holography is risky art business, Karp said. A
successful businessman, Karp can afford to take that risk and is
interested in having innovative shows. He laughed when he mentioned that
his shows haven't been critiqued in 14 years. He acknowledged that most
gallery owners don't know if a market exists for holography. He thinks
it's too soon for holography --the medium is too new and the art world doesn't seem
to have an interest in holography. Karp sees more than 100 artists in a week, of
which he selects few, if any. He does not view slides or videos of holographic work.
The artists would have to set up the work in his gallery. If Karp felt the work had potential,
he would visit the artist's studio. Studio space in New York would be desirable if
Roger Malina, editor of LEONARDO, ... felt there is a bias in
that holographic art is only viewed in specialized places;
major shows are excluded from reviews; and it is unheard of for New
York art museums or galleries to purchase holographic art...
To Susan Hirschfeld, curator with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
on Fifth Ave., the fact that OK Harris now represents an artist working
in holography is a good indication that the art buying and viewing public is ready
to accept holographic art work. Museums are at the top of the art
establishment hierarchy in New York, but are tightly interwoven with the
galleries and art journals which together make up the art network. Part
of Hirschfeld's curatorial responsibilities are to visit galleries and note contemporary
trends. The Gallery Guide is an important tool used by her and her colleagues to
inform them of current shows.
Art magazines and journals are also important--not so much for
reviews, but as indicators of what is new and exciting. The cover of Art
Forum's summer 1985 issue contained a laminated hologram augmenting a
portion of a photograph by Lucas Samaras. Although Samaras' work was
continued inside, very little mention was made of the cover or artist
Dan Schweitzer's contribution to it except for the customary cover
Silvia Hachfield of Artnews told me she would be the one at the
magazine to talk to about holography, and that she had no views on the
subject and was not interested in it! Obviously, holography is not a hot
issue for many writers on art. They are not ready to seek out
exhibitions occurring outside the mainstream art network, and are not
even willing to discuss holography when someone appears at their
doorstep. Again, if an established artist like Samaras uses holography,
they do not shy away from the medium, as in the case of Art Forum, and
in this case have a similar attitude to that of the Knoedler and
Art professionals interviewed see holography not as an art movement
like dada, minimalism or pop art, but as a medium like color photography
or lithography, in which an artist can either do the work or initiate it
and send it to a lab for final execution. The fact that established
artists are not using holography in this manner indicates to them that
holography is not yet an acceptable art medium.
Thoughts such as these may also be in the minds of arts founders
who, according to Ian Lancaster, new director of the Museum of
Holography, have been more eager, at least in the recent past, to grant
awards for work in holography to established artists, rather than to
holographers. An artist with the reputation of an Andy Warhol or a Keith
Haring would wittingly or unwittingly be a powerful advocate of the new
medium and therefore of the artists working in the medium.
Such advocates are important to the art establishment, where
excitement plays an important part in generating shows and funding for
shows. John Szarkowski, director of photography at the Museum of Modern
Art, said that at his museum curators must compete for expenditures. An
exhibition of holography would cost more than an exhibition of drawings
or photography, which virtually could be hung with thumbtacks. Many
display holographers insist they be present at the hanging to tune in
their work, sometimes being flown in and housed for the occasion. New lightning apparatus
contributes to increased costs, which must correspond to an increased excitement about the work on the part of the
curator for him or her to convince the director that such a show should be presented.
Szarkowski felt there is a curatorial waning of interest in
holography. He said the curiosity is gone and holography has nothing
new, vital or exciting to offer. When it was pointed out to him that
major museums outside New York City and the U.S. are backing and funding
important shows of holographic art work, Szarkowski replied that these
places have not had them before, whereas New York has already passed
through the "curiosity in the new medium" stage.
John Hanhardt, of film/video at the Whitney Museum of American
Art, called this initial curiosity about holography by museums "Gee Whiz
science stuff". He felt it is important for holography to find
advocates, if not at the top of the hierarchy in the example of a major
artist, then at the grassroots level. He felt it is unhelpful that art
magazines don't cover holography, because curators need education about
the subject. He said a critical language for the medium needs to be
developed to initiate dialogue on holography. When asked if a curator of
a major museum would not make a better and more powerful advocate for
holographic art, Hanhardt looked as if his hands were tied. Then he
replied that American curators are not as all-powerful as artists might
think and European curators have more freedom to try new things.
Museum professionals interviewed were eager to deny a bias against
display holography. The Guggenheim's Hirschfeld noted that although the
definition of art has broadened over the past two decades to include
video, music and performance art, holography is still excluded from the
traditional artist network. At the time Hirschfeld was interviewed, the
Guggenheim featured a show in which photographs hung on walls and
assemblages of rocks lined the walkways.
Roger Malina, editor of LEONARDO, a journal of arts, science and
technology, felt there is a bias in that holographic art is only viewed
in specialized places; major shows are excluded from reviews; and it is
unheard of for New York art museums or galleries to purchase holographic
art work for their collections. The Museum of Holography s Lancaster
also felt that the bias evidences itself in the fact that curators are
not yet trained to appreciate the complex aesthetics and mechanics of a
hologram and the unsolid space within it.
Artists worry about the archival standing of their work, and how
long their holograms will last, and how they should produce their work, possibly as
prints and in limited editions. But
Hanhardt said major museums are just not ready to collect holographic
art work, while Hirschfeld acknowledged that the Guggenheim's collection
aims are mainly in painting and sculpture.
John Hanhardt of the Whitney Museum
... said a critical language for the medium needs to be
developed to initiate dialogue on holography .
Professionals in the area of photography seemed the least open
to including holographic art work in shows at their institutions. Maria
Morris Hambourg, associate curator of the department of prints and photography at
Metropolitan Museum of Art, said she felt no responsibility to exhibit
new media when the best of photography's past is rapidly disappearing.
Asked if holography might encourage the attendance of a younger
generation, she said photography has the same appeal to this generation
and explained that the display of modem art is not a priority at the
Met. (A new wing of the museum devoted exclusively to modern art, with its own curators,
opened in January,
and perhaps these people will be more receptive to holography.)
Hambourg spoke of holography's elemental colors and of the
difficulty in obtaining subtlety in the medium. She also suggested that
abstract painting with light is reminiscent of color photographic work
done in the '50s and also of paintings by Hans Hoffman, already done and
She then admitted that she has not seen much serious display
holography, as artists are not bringing their portfolios to the museum,
and there are few shows of serious holographic artwork in new York for
curators to view. Herschfeld said that in 10 years of working at the
Guggenheim, she has never once been approached by a display holographer.
She felt holographic artists must get their work out to the public and
build more of a profile in the art scene. Part of their invisibility is
due to the fact that information about exhibitions is not reaching
These responses indicate display holographers will not find strong
advocates among those involved in photography. Perhaps photography
itself is not securely enough accepted as an artistic medium for
curators to feel comfortable sharing its place with holography. Perhaps
it is more content-related: two-dimensionality versus
three-dimensionality; bright colors versus black and white tonality. The
Whitney's Handardt predicted that within five to 10 years holographic
artists will be included in its exhibition program, and reminded me,
that it took 70 years for photography to as: sert itself as a serious
All art professionals interviewed were aware of the Museum of
Holography, most had undoubtedly visited it and had gotten most of their
ideas about holographic art from work displayed there. Most were very
surprised and interested by photographs I showed them of select artists'
recent work, and were unaware that these artists working in the medium
had grown and matured as much as they had.
This surprise must be attributed to the fact that the Museum of
Holography is not solely a museum of holographic art work and I gathered
from talking to Lancaster that it has different functions from that of a
gallery, some of these functions being to gather and disseminate
information on the broad field of holography as a whole.
It is this writer's opinion that work is not exhibited there for
solely aesthetic reasons. At times work in the museum is displayed for
historical and other reasons and this might confuse one whose concern is
artistic growth and development. The museum
has its own collection of holograms and if the same ones are
displayed, it gives the art professional the misconception that nothing
new or exciting is happening in the medium.
All art professionals interviewed felt that by limiting themselves
to the Museum of Holography and other traditional places of holographic
exhibition, artists were ghettoizing themselves and doing themselves a
disservice in the long run by identifying their work with technology.
The way to go, it would seem, is to break into the mainstream art
galleries starting with alternative spaces such as P.S. I or The
How can an artist approach the established art world? Networking
is very important. And there is a certain amount of flair and panache
necessary to succeed as an artist. Sometimes notoriety will gain
attention for an artist's work. One virtually painless way of gaining
notoriety would be to list oneself in Who's Who in American Art. When
asked about holographer listings, the directory's Dorothy Birch said
that to her knowledge, there weren't any. She herself was curious as to
why, noting that the procedure is for an artist to call the publication
and ask to be nominated. The artist is sent a questionnaire, which is
then reviewed. The most important criterion for inclusion is a
respectable exhibition rating in large galleries, shows or certain
museums. Shows at the Museum of Holography would qualify one for
inclusion in the directory since it is on the list of acceptable art
museums. There is no fee for a listing in the directory. The next one is
due out in two years.
Submitting slides can be one initial step. Museum curators
Hirschfeld and Hanhardt showed interest in viewing slides. If a curator
or gallery personnel become interested in the slides, the next step
would be either a visit to the artist's studio, or a visit to the
professional's office to set up a private showing. Some galleries view
videos of work. The Met's Hambourg admitted the Met has no precedent for
viewing holography and one would have to be made.
Patience must be had in regards to the museums, which, like
large beasts, move slowly. In the case of the Guggenheim, shows are
currently being booked three and a half years in advance. One
opportunity for showing would be its Emerging Talent show, in which
small groups of American artists are chosen to exhibit every other year,
alternating with European artists. Emerging talent is also shown at the
Whitney's Biennial shows, and the new modern art wing of the Met
indicates possibilities there. With shows being planned so far in advance, Hanhardt
s prediction of a holographic show at the Whitney in five
to 10 years does not seem so unreasonable.
Funding is not easy. Three factors contribute to this. First is
competition from regional museums. The trend is for major corporations
to fund arts happening in their headquarter's locality. As industry
moves from the city because of rising expenses, so does funding for the
city's arts. Second, New York museums must compete with local museums
for funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Finally, New
York is a small area with a lot of art--not only visual arts, but
symphonies, dance, theatre, etc. All vie for limited funds.
Should holographers seek inclusion in the art establishment?
What will they gain? Currently, a holography network of journal,
exhibition spaces, collectors and advocates is growing up with the
medium. Once inside, it is comfortable, friendly and supportive. Artists don't have
to educate anyone in it. They wont be misunderstood or
even rejected most of the time. Collectors are buying work and
some artists are even living off their sales. What would be the
advantage of fighting, educating, or pounding the pavement when it is
possible that an alternative holography establishment will grow and
develop as happened in photography? Should holography wait for a new way
of display to emerge, again as in the case of photography, with
magazines such as Look and Life of a generation ago? The art
establishment is difficult to understand. Politics plays an enormous
part. Might it not be possible to bypass it entirely and create
something more just, that functions with higher ideals, more integrity
and less corruption?
My answer to these questions lies with the fact that holographer
Scott Nemtzow is represented by the OK Harris gallery. Artists are
breaking out of the ghetto in New York, breaking into the mainstream.
Curators are interested, galleries are not opposed and owners call
Professionals give the impression that many are waiting for
holography to happen. They're watching the Museum of Holography, keeping
track of holographers, and they're aware of shows outside the U.S. It's
possible that for some artists, holography has already happened and
great works of art already are being done in the medium. Maybe not.
Maybe the medium has kinks to be worked out and still needs a protective
environment for continued growth. Perhaps this is why artists aren't out
there pounding the pavement for inclusion in gallery shows. Surely
holography has enough flamboyant characters in its ranks to compete with
any medium in the area of notoriety.
The December, 1986 issue of Scientific American, in describing
the computer- generated holograms adapted by the M.l.T. group under the
leadership of Stephen Benton, hints that this might be the start of more
widespread use of holography. Holographic jewelry is even finding its
way to the street corners of Hartford, Connecticut. Embossed work is on
credit cards, magazine covers, book jackets and children's toys.
Holography itself is becoming mainstream.
Dieter Jung once said that early in his career he had to choose
between being a scientist or an artist. It seems that eventually the
choice must be made. And part of an artist's job, a difficult part,
granted, is to get the work out, to be seen by an audience, so
communication can occur. Once it's out in the mainstream art world,
critical analysis and vocabulary will follow. People will be influenced and artistic
dialogue will blossom and grow.