Nasher Museum of Art

  • 2009_2_1_v7_700

    Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi, Winter in America, 2006. Video (color, sound), 4:05 minute loop. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by William and Ruth True, 2009.2.1. Image courtesy of the artists and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY. © Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi.

  • The uncertain museum

    Olafur Eliasson, The uncertain museum, 2004. Steel, painted wooden floor, wire, motors, glass/mirror disks, spotlight, projection foil; 116 x 175 inches (294.6 x 444.5 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Blake Byrne, T’57; Monica M. and Richard D. Segal; Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill; and Bill and Ruth True; 2006.4.1. © Olafur Eliasson. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

  • 2009_2_1_v8_700

    Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi, Winter in America, 2006. Video (color, sound), 4:05 minute loop. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase with additional funds provided by William and Ruth True, 2009.2.1. Image courtesy of the artists and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY. © Hank Willis Thomas and Kambui Olujimi.

  • Video still of Ali Assaf's, Narcisso

    Ali Assaf, Narciso, 2010. Video (color, silent), 12:50 minute loop. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. Museum purchase, 2011.14.1. © Ali Assaf.

Background

The term “multimedia” is used to describe works of art that incorporate a variety of media (materials), including technological media that appeal to multiple senses, not just to sight. New media works use new technologies like video, computers, and/or virtual reality. Because technology is constantly evolving, the definition of “new media” is also in flux. Some multimedia and new media works may be discrete works of art; others may be installations, or even part of performance art.

Some multimedia and new media works are interactive, which means that the audience must actively participant in, rather than passively view, the work. In fact, some works are only fully realized when the audience interacts with them. How the audience participates or interacts varies depending on the media used, as well as the physical condition of the work. The museum may limit the amount of physical contact visitors can have with a fragile work in order to preserve it for future generations, even if the artist’s original intention was to have people physically handle the work. In addition to considering the different media, technologies, and the role of the audience in multimedia and new media works, keep in mind the context in which the work is exhibited.

How do you look at multimedia and new media works?

Look at the media.

  • What media are used?
  • What is the relationship between the various media? How do they interact with each other? How or what does each medium contribute to the whole work?
  • Was the media or technology new or innovative at the time the work was made, or was it already older? (Remember that technology changes quickly, so what was new just a few years ago may appear dated today.)
  • Do you sense that the artist is intrigued by or critical of technology’s future, or nostalgic for the past? Why do you think this?
  • Does the work allude to, is the work in dialogue with, or was the work influenced by, other art practices or media, such as painting, sculpture, or the popular media? How so?
  • If the work has a film or video component…
    • How is it different from the cinema? What do you think distinguishes an art film/video from an amateur or a commercial film/video?
    • Is the film/video a work of art or documentation? Does it fall somewhere in between?
    • Are there other elements to the work? If so, what are they and how do they relate to the film/video?

Look at the audience’s role.

  • Is the audience meant to be an active participant in the work or a passive viewer?
  • Does your movement or your actions affect the work? How so? How does the work change? What must you do? What happens when you stop?
  • If the work is participatory, how does this alter your understanding of what an artist is, if at all?
  • How much control do you think the artist has over your interpretation of the work? Why do you think this? Does this matter?

Look at the content.

  • What do you think the work is about? What is its content or subject matter? Why do you think this?
  • Does the work relate to issues of identity, gender, sexuality, or race? How so?
  • Does the work allude to cultural, social, historical, political, or psychological issues? How so?
  • Does the work make any art historical, literary, philosophical, or theoretical references? How so?
  • Is the work narrative? If so, is it auto-biographical? Is it true or fictitious? Why do you think this? How does the narrative unfold? Is it linear or fragmented?

Want to know more?

Related “How Do You Look?” Guides

Installation Art

Collage and Mixed Media

Works in the Nasher’s Collection

Bibliography

Barrett, Edward, ed. Sociomedia: Multimedia, Hypermedia, and the Social Construction of Knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.

Benford, Steve. Performing Mixed Reality. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

Celant, Germaine, and Gianfranco Maraniello, eds. Vertigo: A Century of Multimedia Art from Futurism to the Web. Exh. cat. Milan: Skira, 2008.

Davis, Douglas. Art and the Future: A History-Prophecy of the Collaboration between Science, Technology, and Art. New York: Praeger, 1973.

Debord, Guy. “The Society of the Spectacle.” 1967. Available online at http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/pub_contents/4/ and http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm.

Goldberg, Roselee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. Third ed. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001.

Grau, Oliver, ed. MediaArtHistories. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.

Hall, Doug, and Sally Jo Fifer, eds. Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art. New York: Aperture, in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition, 1990.

Heim, Michael. Virtual Realism: The Art of Emerging Technology. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kirby, Michael. The Art of Time. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1969.

Lovejoy, Margaret. Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Random House, 1967.

— . Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

Michalka, Matthias. Changing Channels: Art and Television, 1963-1987. Exh. cat. Cologne: Walther König, 2010.

Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. New ed. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008.

Popper, Frank. Art of the Electronic Age. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993.

—. From Technological to Virtual Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.

Rush, Michael. New Media in Art. New ed. London and New York: 2005.

Schimmel, Paul, ed. Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998.

Shanken, Edward. Art and Electronic Media. London and New York: Phaidon, 2009.