New Media Works at UCL Art Museum
By Andrea Fredericksen, on 16 November 2011
By Cathrine Alice Liberg
Every year UCL Art Museum acquires student works from the Slade School of Fine Art through the William Coldstream Memorial Prize, an annual purchase prize which recognizes a student’s particular excellence in any medium. In 2010, the prize was awarded to Tessa Power for her video installation Channel, and as a museum intern, completing a History of Art Material Studies (HAMS) placement, I have had the pleasure of setting up her work as one of the first digital art objects to be showcased at UCL Art Museum. It will feature as part of our current exhibition Word & Image, which is on display throughout the autumn term.
Earlier works acquired by UCL Art Museum were almost exclusively of a traditional kind – the collection consisting of over 10,000 objects which include paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture dating from the 1470s to the present day. A significant part of these works come from staff and students of the Slade School of Fine Art. Ever since its establishment in 1871, the Slade has been awarding student works for outstanding achievement, most of which have been collected by UCL Art Museum. Early prizes held strict thematic requirements, and were divided into traditional categories such as life drawing, antique drawing, composition and landscape. In constrast, the Coldstream Prize is awarded according to general excellence, and works can be made in all media.
The collecting of Slade works has resulted in the formation of a unique art collection not only documenting early works by famous Slade graduates (such as Augustus John and William Orpen), but also those of lesser-known artists not represented in the larger, national displays. Our Slade collection is still growing; with many students now rejecting traditional materials in favour of an increasingly diverse range of media such as video and sound. The recent works acquired through the William Coldstream Prize have added a whole new dimension to UCL’s art collections: 2005 saw the introduction of the first time-based media work, followed in 2006 by Viveka Marksjo’s CGI animation Embodied/Disembodied V.1 (no. 71). As the 21st century progresses, it is safe to say that new acquisitions from the Slade will be dominated by works which are no longer medium specific, or even physically tangible.
How do we as an art museum deal with the opportunities and challenges posed by these works? Last Monday we were very lucky to be visited by artist Nicole Morris, her video I am Here! (2011) being one of UCL Art Museum’s latest acquisitions through the Coldstream Prize. It is very important for us to keep close communication with the artists in order to ensure that we manage to convey their intentions as efficiently and accurately as possible, this being especially important in the case of new media works. Not only is this an area in which we have little previous experience, but such artworks also have very specific guidelines of how they should be viewed and presented. This can involve everything from viewing angles to technical equipment, and together with Nicole we refined our display procedures for I am Here!, and made sure these were recorded for posterity. Like many other art institutions, we need to constantly reinvent ourselves and our practices in order to archive and display new media works, and also of finding ways to successfully incorporate these with our more traditional items. The showcasing of Channel is one of our first attempts at this, and in the future we hope to further explore methods of displaying old and new works side by side.