Nam June Paik's "Buddha Watching TV" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts might be one of the most famous art images of watching TV. To learn more about the work visit VMFA's website. (image courtesy Aleksandr Zykov's Flickrstream)

Ever since my spouse and I bought an Apple TV over a decade ago, I’ve been watching YouTube videos for hours a day. It’s a secret obsession that my partner doesn’t share, and actually dislikes, but whenever he leaves the room or goes to sleep (or sleeps in, not to mention naps) the chances are good that if I’m watching a screen for more than a few minutes, I’m watching YouTube. 

Why I’m so obsessed with Google’s video platform is complicated. I find the frenetic nature of the platform strangely comforting. Growing up, I often turned on the TV or radio while I did homework, or read, or drew, or played with my dolls, if only to calm part of my mind so that the other parts could concentrate on what I was doing — and I know I’m not the only one. 

Since the beginning of the lockdowns, which started on March 20, 2020 in New York City during the “New York Pause,” I’ve been consuming a lot of videos, so I thought I’d take a look to see how much YouTube (not even taking into account the content on other platforms) I was consuming. I discovered that I’ve actually watched 6,249 YouTube videos since that date, which means that between March 20, 2020, and September 15, 2021, I’ve watched just over 11 videos a day. *Gulp.*

A year into the pandemic, I realized I wasn’t the only art critic (or art worker) forced to be behind a screen and consuming a lot more video than I normally do. While as art critics we’re accustomed to video art in galleries, museums, theaters, and online, what we’ve been consuming in the last year and a half has been a hodgepodge of content, which fascinates me. So, the underlying question for this Sunday Edition issue is, What if we asked art critics to write about television?

I asked some longtime Hyperallergic contributors and staff to think about the video content they’ve gravitated towards or consumed during the pandemic, and invited them to offer their thoughts on the TV program, idea, or just share ruminations on the overall experience. These six essays are the result of this prompt and they offer varied takes: 

  • Critic John Yau reveals his distaste for Hollywood (who can blame him?) and a particular interest in detective dramas of the European variety, among other serials and films.
  • Seph Rodney focuses on one poignant French television series, Call My Agent, and relates it to being an editor and what it taught him about doing his job.
  • Art historian and critic Erin Thompson examines the popular Rutherford Falls series that came out this year and includes a prominent Native American museum curator in the storyline. She discusses what it might tell us about museums today.
  • Critic Alicia Eler considers the intersection of TV, identity, queerness, and the art world as portrayed on shows like the L Word and Gentefied
  • Europe-based critic Dorian Batycka, who found himself stuck in various countries during the pandemic, and he revisits a classic TV series, The Sopranos, considering the lessons that can be gleaned for our contemporary moment.
  • Critic Angelica Frey turned to Spaghetti Westerners and other “trashy” Italian cultural output during her time in lockdown to escape from the world all around her.

We hope you’ll enjoy this edition.

A special thanks to our new editorial coordinator, Lakshmi Amin, for helping to bring this edition together through her administration and care. 

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.