Martin Kohout, “Moonwalk” (image from

If you happened to be hiding under a social media rock for the past few days, you might have missed the Guggenheim museum’s short-lived multimedia/indie band/internets extravaganza that was their YouTube-sponsored Play Biennial. The Biennial was in reality a juried exhibition that anyone could submit a video to, the only requirements being that the video had to be made in the past two years and come in under the 10 minute mark. More spectacle than art experience, commentators seem generally down on the show.

Though the videos are no longer on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, records of the exhibition and the installations are readily available online.

First, check out the spectacle! Here at Hyperallergic, we have our own photo essay documenting the proceedings. CBS News gets some great video of the projections on the exterior of the Guggenheim here.

If you still haven’t gotten enough photos, check out the Guggenheim’s flickr page for a constantly updated source of documentation of the opening “After Dark” events. The facade graphics seem endless and new in each frame.

Huffington Post has a slideshow of each of the 25 winning videos that’s a little easier to navigate than YouTube‘s own exhibition page. It’s less fun though.

New York Times critic Roberta Smith seems displeased at the glossiness of the presentation, noting that despite the open call for works, the final videos under consideration are characterized by “slick and pointless professionalism, where too much technique serves relatively skimpy, generic ideas.” Ouch.

Aol’s Switched blog says it all in the headline: “YouTube Play Open to Fanfare, Yet Flops.” Matthew Zuras was all ready to be impressed, but in the end the artwork was too submerged in the showy opulence of the event itself, more focused on brands than art history. In the end, Play fails to tame YouTube and just represents another “blip” on the art world radar.

Artcritical gets nasty, noting that the range of selected YouTube videos “goes from boring/unoriginal/pretentious/predictable, to amusing/cute/watchable but instantly forgettable.” The blog, or online magazine or whatever they consider themselves, also points out that the videos are overly professional and don’t really represent the no-holds-barred playground that YouTube is all about.

Businessweek had an interesting take on the show, framing it as an attempt by Google to take YouTube upmarket, with the conniving of the Guggenheim thrown in. The whole contest was a “throwaway idea from one of the young guys” at Google London that built up steam. What a refreshingly succinct way to talk about art! Meanwhile, Tyler Green calls out the Gug for pay-for-play … sometimes big business and art museums don’t mix well.

In case you were curious, the “non-art” video projections on the Guggenheim’s facade were produced by digital creative firms Consortium Studios and Obscura Digital. Their logos are so similar as to be strangely identical. Consortium seems to do a lot of TV show sets (see: the Gugg’s interior) while Obscura Digital does hi-tech interactive wizardry.

Now that the ballots have come in, Play seems to have mistaken YouTube hits for artistic quality. The issue is that the videos they picked aren’t really all that artistically valuable, they’re just good demonstrations of technology and creativity. Both the art selected and the exhibition lack a dialogue with any sort of greater art or media history; the lack of context means the art comes off as overly flashy, too slick, and not particularly important. Still, this is just the first iteration of Play, which is slotted for a biennial schedule. Here’s to two years from now, when we will have something better than YouTube!

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

4 replies on “Guggenheim’s “YouTube Play” Greeted With Ambivalence”

  1. Uh is an online magazine. It says it right at the top of the homepage, the page your “article” links to. Not too hard to see it. It has been around a lot longer than this digital rag. But why would we expect anything but lazy musings from a Hyperallergic writer. The NYT gave the YouTube extravaganza thumbs up by giving it so much attention, separate from Roberta’s review. So a writer probably should take that into account when trying to summarize the press an exhibition receives.

    1. Hey Eric, I will tell you that these round ups often take more time than typing out my own “lazy musings”, but so much for that. Artcritical seems to trash Play, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the “online magazine” thing. Sure, Play got a ton of attention, and any press is good press, but I’m talking about critical analysis of Play as an art event, which was largely negative. If there’s good analysis I’m missing, please point it out!

      1. So uh you couldn’t take the time to read the top of the artcritical homepage where it says online magazine. Yeah I get it. If you were trying to be a douchebag and say that the review was more like a blog entry than a proper review (as if we ever get proper reviews on this site instead of press releases for your advertisers or potential advertisers) why don’t you say it outright instead of doing the aw shucks approach. Secondly the review is an analysis. You might not like it when a potential sponsor or actual sponsor gets a negative review but that doesn’t disqualify my analysis, which was in fact negative. I say exactly why I thought the “exhibition” was a failure, I give numerous reasons, and I do not get anything confused. Now I know it might help you if I simplify things into a few bullet points, but try to read the REVIEW again and see if you can find the analysis. I know I should have been happy taking some digital images and posting them with captions like “Wowza!” “Cool projections!” and whatever other crap you posted in the past but I am not a fucking cheerleader.

      2. Also your implication that an online magazine would never trash anything, or give it a negative review, is truly laughable. According to you, only bloggers give negative reviews. It is unfortunate that the world actually does work this way and it is the reason why most art journalism is unreadable. It really goes to show you how inverted the value system that you promote around here is. A magazine would never trash or give an exhibition a negative review! At least you revealed the thing that makes art criticism total shit in this day and age. Good luck promoting your sponsors and posting lightweight fluff pieces galore.

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