Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary, 1976–77. Five-channel video (black and white, sound; 30 minutes), weavings, drawings, and pictographic video notations, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2016 Beryl Korot.
Beryl Korot’s Text and Commentary acquired by the Museum of Modern Art
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This five-channel video installation—comprising videos, drawings, and weavings—was first exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1977. An early pioneer of video art, Korot’s Text and Commentary was singular in its approach and form, combining multichannel video with other media. With four distinct, yet inextricably linked parts, Text and Commentary includes five channel video outputs inset into a freestanding wall; five corresponding weavings that hang at the center of the installation side by side; five hand-drawn weavers’ notations delineating the pattern of the hanging tapestries; and a pictographic score that maps the edited sequences of each of the five videos. Each of these describes identical phenomena expressed within the limitations of each medium. Rooted in one of the oldest of technologies, Text and Commentary links ancient and contemporary tools among other dialectics: art and craft, male and female, traditional and avant-garde. As reviewed by Jeff Perrone for Artforum in 1977, “It would be as simple-minded to ask what was what as it would be to ask if part of the work was ‘crafts’ and the other part ‘art.’”
In the installation, each video faces the tapestry being woven line by line by Korot; the sound of the beater against the loom’s wooden frame and ambient room noise comprise the work’s audio. The viewer sits between the weaves and the video. One wall displays the five weaver’s notations, another the pictographic video score. Having read an article about the Jacquard loom’s impact on Charles Babbage’s punch cards, Korot took away the understanding that the loom was ostensibly the first computer. In the New York Times (Grace Glueck, March 18, 1977), Korot notes, “The thing that attracted me to the loom was its sophistication as a programming tool—it programs patterns through the placement of threads in a numerical order that determines pattern possibilities. It’s like the first computer on earth.” Discussing the work with Harry Philbrick in a Dartmouth catalogue of Korot’s work (2011), she writes, “Text (textus) and weave (texto) share the same Latin root. Text is a tissue or fabric woven of many threads. It is a web, texture, structure, a thought, something that can be built, raveled, unraveled.” Each media in this work encodes its information in lines, from the slowly built lines on the hand loom to create pattern, to the lines that construct the video image itself many frames per second, to the weaver’s notations and pictographic score.
“An amalgamation of various genres—post-Minimalism, Process art, Pattern and Decoration—Text and Commentary has not yet been considered a key Conceptual work, though it should be, given its capacious reflection on the limits and capabilities of language and seriality” (Lauren O’Neill-Butler, Artforum, 2012). MoMA’s acquisition signals this work is being recognized as such.
Previous exhibitions of Text and Commentary include the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (1977); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1978); the Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY (1979–80); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1980); the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA (1999); the Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2010); the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, UK (2013), the Abteiberg Museum, Mönchengladbach, Germany (2013), the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA (2014); and the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2015). Co-founder and co-editor of Radical Software, Korot began working with video in the early ’70s and has exhibited her work internationally since that time.
Korot’s other seminal multichannel video installation Dachau 1974 (1974), first exhibited at the Kitchen in 1975, is in the Kramlich Collection and the Thoma Foundation collection. The work will be on view in Film as Place at SFMOMA, from May 16 to October 20, 2016. For more information, please visit www.bitforms.com.