November 27, 2012
MTV’s Art Breaks Reclaim Legacy of Vanguard Video Art
By Kaylee Hultgren
MTV recently partnered with MoMA PS1 and Creative Time to unveil its second round of video art from a group of young, avant-garde artists from across the globe. Using a combination of digital, social and linear platforms, the project pays tribute to MTV’s history of vanguard video art from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which provided a platform for art videos from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. Producing this iteration, which launched November 15, builds on that legacy while updating it for today’s MTV audiences and the global modern art community, according to Jason Rzepka, SVP of MTV Public Affairs. Here is more from Rzepka on the curation process, the net’s digital and social strategies and maintaining the artists’ intended vision.
What is your business goal with this project and what demo are you targeting?
I would say this is less about business goals and more about inspiration. This program is really an extension of our longtime commitment to celebrating creative expression and to break boundaries. We’ve been working with really vanguard artists going all the way to the beginning of the channel, and early on in the ‘80s and ‘90s with folks like Basquiat, Keith Herring and a number of others. So this in many ways was a continuation of that commitment to showcasing great art. And if you think about the music video as an artistic platform, that was something that we’re obviously very instrumental in. This was one part reclaiming that legacy and then updating it for now, for this era, and finding a new wave of breakthrough artists to spotlight and to give a global platform to.
How did you find and choose these artists?
We did that in partnership with Creative Time and MoMA PS1. I think just about every time we do a program, if it’s a pro-social program like sexual health or education or cyber bullying, we always find the best-in-class experts in those areas. We want to go to those organizations that really have their finger on the pulse of the art scene and have optics into who those next breakthrough video artists might be. They help to create a really big list of names and then we work together to whittle that down to a top ten.
From a brand perspective, how do you figure out which videos best represent MTV?
We’re generally looking for young artists. So we had a bias towards those who were under 30 or just over. We wanted to find artists whom we felt could connect with our audience and maybe even challenge them a little bit, because I think we have license to push the boundaries. And as artists we wanted them to do that and not have it be something that was pedestrian, but something that was maybe a little outlandish or be unexpected on MTV, in the flow of the shows you typically see on air.
Do you help finance or create the videos at all?
We did give a budget to each of the artists to be able to produce the work and deliver it, and then we finished it for air, and made sure it was up to fidelity that all of our programming is. We gave a small budget to each artist to create their work and we also made sure that they owned the rights to the work. So we have an exclusive license for a certain amount of time, but the artists are going to retain the rights to their work ongoing.
Do they have final cut?
Well they made the work and submitted it to us and we reviewed it really just for standards issues. So if there was something in the work that was obscene or violated any of the standards that we set up that applies to anything that [airs], that was going to be the only real consideration. Otherwise we gave them pretty much total creative freedom.
How much was the budget?
We can’t go into the specifics on the budget, but we did give them a budget to work with so [that] they weren’t going out of pocket.
What was the response from the art world/community?
The response from the art world was uniformly very positive and exciting, because there are a lot of folks who have grown up with MTV who are now in positions on influence in the art world and remember that work that we did with Warhol and Basquiat and Richard Prince and others. I think by and large they were excited to see we were carrying that forward and updating it for a new age. And the artists that we’re working with are super respected, really rising stars, so I think that was another factor that was really well received—that we did our homework and worked with folks who are experts in the field, like MoMA PS1 and Creative Time. I think there are very few organizations who are more respected than they are. We had a great reaction last week when we hosted a screening here at MTV for art press and other influencers in the art world.
You used Tumblr as your social media platform. I know that it’s a good platform for fashion. Is the same true for the art world?
We felt that Tumblr is very visual. There is a community there that is hungry for all types of visual media and visual arts. Of every place we could have put this, that felt like the most germane home for it. And our social media team from the very beginning worked with the folks from MoMA PS1 and Creative Time to come up with something that felt right for the program and to make that the home. We’ve been excited to experiment with that as a home base. Typically, when we do a program the main home base would be on MTV.com, but from the very beginning we wanted this be very open, have the word spread far and wide and take advantage of the social footprint that we have. MTV has one of the biggest presence’s on Tumblr of any brand, so when we post one of these videos on Tumblr and then MTV reblogs it, it immediately brings it to a large audience that may be exposed to something like this for the first time—in addition to just having it to the art centric community that's already on Tumblr.
How did have you incorporated digital and linear distribution platforms?
It’s simultaneous. When a new video hits air it’s also posted on Tumblr at the same time. And we also have MTV’s Facebook page, which over 40 million likes. They’ve been cross posting and helping to prop up some of the work, and really taking advantage of all the different assets we have to help spread the word and spread the work.
How has it rolled out globally?
The first of the new wave has hit MTV already. The previous 5 works have been on MTV since March—and not just on MTV in the United States, but MTV globally. Internationally, we’re on 600 million homes. So these works have been rolling out to Germany and Portugal, the UK and France and Asia—all across our international footprint. In the event we had last week one of the artists in the first wave, Rashaad, said he knew when his video was airing in a new country because he would get a wave of new Facebook fans friending him from that country. We thought that was an awesome example of how we could bring his work to a worldwide audience and build a fan base internationally. He even found some potential collaborators who he will work with. That’s an example of how the MTV international footprint could be really valuable.
Was MoMA involved in just curating the artists or will it show the works in the museum?
There isn’t a definite conclusion on that. I know MoMA in Manhattan books shows 5 years in advance, so there’s a very long lead time there. We’ve talked with the folks at Moma PS1 in Queens about the potential to bring this to life in that gallery space. There hasn’t been a definitive conclusion on that yet but we’re continuing to explore it. From the beginning their main role was curatorial. We always would explore other ways to spread the work, but I think what’s nice about having it on MTV is it’s a little bit unexpected. This is work you’d expect to find in a gallery but you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it on MTV.
What’s in store next for Art Breaks?
We’ve started to talk to both Creative Time and MoMA PS1 about what the next version of this might look like. I would say at MTV we’re kind of allergic to formula. We don’t necessarily want to do the same thing that we’ve done already. So if we looked forward we would think about what would be a way to iterate on this idea, or tweek it, or introduce some other expression of it. We’re having those conversations now.