Television's Impact

The Queens Museum, September 13 - October 26, 1986

Back cover of “Television’s Impact on Contemporary Art” Catalogue

Back cover of “Television’s Impact on Contemporary Art” Catalogue

Artists in the exhibition as listed in the invitation

Television’s Impact on Contemporary Art was just the right subject for my first project as a curator at the Queens Museum, a contemporary arts venue located in historic Flushing Meadows Park, where television first debuted as part of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. For fair-goers, television was an exciting part of "The World of Tomorrow" but it wasn’t until the 1950s that TV fully entered American life. It was my generation, the baby boomers born in the 1940s and 50s, that first grew up with television. For us it was a powerful force, the ever-present intermediate through which we learned about the world. 

I witnessed the impact of television on the art world first-hand as an active participant in the conceptual art movement in the 1970s and in the East Village art scene of the 1980s. Artists began to use the technology of television when lightweight video cameras were introduced in the late 1960s, and by the 1970s "video art" displayed on TV monitors was a regular feature in galleries and museums. In the 1980s the impact of television could be seen in every creative media including painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. Artists used TV subject matter; they found inspiration in the light, color and pixelation of the TV screen; and some even worked directly with television consoles both as a form of decoration and commentary.  The time was ripe for a show about the phenomenon. My immediate inspiration was the Television Show that my friend Tom Wolf curated at Bard College. 

Since video art was often surveyed in exhibitions, I emphasized the less familiar ground of television’s influence on painting, photography, and other traditional, static mediums.  The exhibition and catalog were organized chronologically but also included thematic sections such as "Media Overload," "Toward a New Abstraction" and "Into the Future. “Television's Impact was both a popular and critical success. The museum guards were especially happy because the exhibition coincided with the World Series triumph of our Flushing Meadow Park neighbor, the New York Mets, and they were able to watch the games on the televisions included in the exhibition.

Illustrations on front and back cover of catalogue by John Holmstrom.

Installation view, with paintings by Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol. All installation photographs by Phyllis Bilick.

Left to right: Isidore Isou, Ragged Television; Nam June Paik, Participation T.V.; Peter Moore, Photo Documentation; unidentified; unidentified; Robert Bechtle, Zenith.

Left to right: Anton Perich, Mona Lisa; Keith Sonnier, Video Still Screen II; Lewis Stein, Untitled (T.V. Light); Ed Paschke, Strangulita; Alastair Noble, Divided Presence; unidentified; Rhonda Zwillinger, Turned On.

Left to right: Keiko Bonk, Moonlight Love; Lewis Stein, Surveillance; John Fekner, Tarred T.V.; John Fekner and Don Leicht, Your Space Is Being Invaded; Edward and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, The Block Head.

Left to right: Keith Haring, Untitled; Tseng Kwong Chi, Keith Haring Subway Drawings; unidentified (top); Marcia Resnick, She Secretly Lusted for Her Television Idol (bottom); Mark Kostabi, Goya T.V.; Tseng Kwong Chi, Kenny Scharf in "Hanna Barbera" Dance (top); unidentified (bottom); Kenny Scharf, Extravaganza T.V.; Kenny Scharf, Elroy Bug.