Video art has not historically been an easy sell. It takes longer to observe than a static painting or sculpture, making it challenging to process in art fairs; it's impermanent (the technology degrades or is outmoded over time); it's easily replicable; and it prefers cozier viewing spaces than art institutions typically offer. But like photography before—which is equally impermanent and replicable—new media works are finally establishing their place on the fine-art market landscape, thanks largely to pioneer collectors like the San Francisco-based couple Pam and Dick Kramlich, who since the late 1980s have been buying video art by now-recognized masters of the field such as Bruce Nauman, Steve McQueen, and Matthew Barney.
In 1997 the couple founded the New Art Trust for the advancement of time-based media scholarship, and today they have literally built their lives around their collection in an undulating Presidio Heights home that buzzes and drones with the sights and sounds of their art.
Pam Kramlich, a member of the board of trustees at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, spoke to Artspace about her role in pioneering this new market landscape.
When you first began collecting, did you take an interest in electronic art right away or did you buy other types of work first?
We collected drawings and prints prior to electronic art. We became interested in video on a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art trip to Documenta in 1987, where [former SFMOMA director and curator] Jack Lane and John Caldwell introduced us to the work of Fischli & Weiss. Our first purchase was the videotape of Fischli & Weiss called The Way Things Go.
How did you become introduced to video and electronic art, and how has your knowledge and interest in the category evolved over the years?
My knowledge and interest has evolved through travel and my association with SFMOMA, as well as the involvement with various art consultants. One learns the field by being there.
How has the market for electronic art changed? Do you think that buying video art will someday be as common as buying photography?
There are more and more indications that video art has an important place in museum exhibitions around the world, and I think it will be collected more as people become familiar with the medium.
I've heard that the sights and sounds of your collection has given your home quite a life of its own. Is it ever difficult to live among so much animate artwork?
Our home is full of video art. However, when it is turned off, the house is quite silent. It's very easy to live with, and it comes to life when we want to enjoy it!
What was the most recent work you purchased?
Doug Aitken's Black Mirror.
Is there a philosophy that guides your collection, or any common themes that have emerged?
Dick and I have always looked for work that changes our way of seeing and thinking about things, mostly regarding human issues.
What are your favorite galleries and art institutions in San Francisco?
SFMOMA, the Fine Arts Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are among the institutions. Then there’s Rena Branston Gallery, Jeffrey Fraenkel Gallery, John Berggruen Gallery, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts.
What about those that deal predominantly with electronic art?
Few galleries and institutions deal predominantly with electronic art, but the ones I've listed above feature it well. We also favor Marian Goodman Gallery, 303 Gallery, and Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, as well as Yvon Lambert in Paris. Many others are catching on!
Where do you discover new art and artists? Do you travel to attend auctions, openings, fairs, or art events in other cities?
I usually make discoveries through our various contacts and friends in the art world, as well as the art fairs. I travel several times a year, and we have been going to Art Basel since 1987, as well as other fairs around the world, including in New York, Miami, London, Chicago, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Who are some of the artists you're most excited about right now?
Tino Sehgal, Pierre Huyghe, and Francis Alys.