Remember the 1980s when MTV helped define Western youth culture? Remember when the music video channel had a sense of the unexpected and was brimming with creative energy? President of MTV Stephen Friedman, in an interview with Hyperallergic, says he wants to rekindle the “visual playground” that was part of the appeal and thrill of those years.
As part of the channel’s goal to look past Gen X, who have aged out of MTV, to the Millenials, who are the biggest generation in history, the network is overhauling their image by infusing the channel with some edgier elements and re-introducing it to an audience which is almost impossible to impress. Enter the Art Break spots, which was born out of a collaboration by MTV, MoMA PS1 and Creative Time.
When the original Art Breaks debuted in the 1980s, it featured art commercials by artists Keith Haring, Doug Aitken, Jean-Michel Basquiat (see below), Kenny Scharf and Richard Prince. Nowadays those names may be well known both inside and outside the art world, but at the time they were unknowns to most people who weren’t in the know.
“When i was growing up in high school in the 1980s I remember seeing that MTV was doing visual things others weren’t doing,” Friedman says and Art Breaks is part of that drive to return to those exciting roots.
MTV’s conduit to the art world was Creative Time’s Ann Pasternak, who in a previous project helped the channel curate a screen in Times Square. By August 2009 the network had already reached out to Glenn Lowry, MoMA’s director, and the process continued from there.
“The really great thing about this idea is that you have a lot of people at MTV who are restless and looking at the vanguard of culture. Whether its skateboarding culture that becomes Jackass or something else … this notion of pioneering excites people [at the network],” Friedman says.
The first five videos in the new series will feature the works of Rashaad Newsome (below), Mickalene Thomas, Tala Madani, Jani Ruscica and Mads Lynnerup. It’s a zany assortment that is as diverse as it is exciting. Newsome, in particular, seems like a natural fit considering his love of pop culture.
In a statement, Newsome points out the influence MTV had on his own childhood. “As a kid I remember being captivated by the videos and animations that MTV would air in between programming. I am so excited to be a part of this project as MTV has been a huge inspiration for me and I can think of no other place better suited to premiere ‘SWAG Vol. 2.’”
Friedman says that the only guidelines they provided to the artists, who were selected by Creative Time and MoMA PS1, were that they had to play with the video form and follow the channel’s standards in terms of nudity since they were being aired during primetime. He said there were no limitations on political speech.
“We wanted people who are at the beginning of their career. We weren’t going to start with people who were [already] famous. Our hope is that in 10 or 20 years from now they will be as well known as Keith Haring or Basquiat,” he says. “I’m thrilled with [the result] … Everyone who sees them is excited because they are complicated and nuanced and everyone who has seen them wants to see them again.”
MTV is a youth culture powerhouse and reaches 600 million young people around the world, which means these artists have the potential to reach an audience — for better or worse — that no show at MoMA or anywhere else could ever touch. Another five spots by five other artists will be released at the end of summer but no word yet as to who those lucky few will be.
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