Author Archives: Emily Davis, Senior Research Associate, Time-Based Media Project

Decoding the Secrets of Buky Schwartz’s ‘The Big Video Chair’

The Big Video Chair (1987)

Installation photographs of The Big Video Chair, 1987. Image courtesy of the Estate of Buky Schwartz.

As the media archivist and co-director of the Time-Based Media Project at Carnegie Museum of Art, I am responsible for ensuring the long-term accessibility and usability of the museum’s time-based media artworks. Time-based media is a broad term that refers to film, video, audio, digital, and computer-based artworks or installation art with a specified duration and a dependency on changing technology. Collecting, preserving, and exhibiting artwork with technological dependencies can present unique challenges for museums. By nature, they are unstable, they don’t exist until they are installed, and they generally require additional documentation to support installation and preservation efforts.

CMOA’s collection is comprised of nearly 1,000 time-based media works, including numerous complex artworks that have dependencies on obsolete technology such as a cathode ray tub (CRT) monitor or a slide projector. Since I started working on this project last year, I’ve been drawn to Buky Schwartz’s The Big Video Chair (1987), a sculpture comprised of wooden beams, mirrors, and a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system. From a conservation perspective, it’s an interesting piece that poses several unique challenges: it is dependent on obsolete technology; the condition of the technical components are unknown; it was defaced the last time it was on display in 1988, leaving the condition of the affected parts unknown; and there is very little documentation available.

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