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Wednesday, Oct 22 1997
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Video Art at SFMOMA
Video's roots are in news, as an inexpensive, populist tool for documenting political events (i.e., late-'60s anti-war demonstrations). Thirty years on, directors of big-budget lies like TV commercials and feature films have stolen video -- and its low-res cinema verite credibility -- and turned it into another meaningless technique. All the more reason to return to the source with "Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the United States," a revelatory eight-part SFMOMA series that honors the medium's true innovators. More of a pop-up history book than a technical tour, the series nonetheless unearths straight-ahead street scenes featuring minimal camera and editing flourishes as well as primitive and often psychedelic effects. In the 1970s, however, as artists began experimenting with video, the medium's remarkable potential became apparent. Inspired by conceptual and performance art, not to mention home movies, political theater, Ernie Kovacs, and Pothead TV, video artists charted amazing new territory. From a '90s media-overdosed perspective dominated by the boob tube's endless recycled cliches, the spirit of innocence and discovery on display in "Surveying the First Decade" has a decidedly awakening effect.

-- Michael Fox

"Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the United States" screens at 1 and 3 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays from Oct. 23 through Nov. 23 in the Phyllis Wattis Theater of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission). It's free with museum admission of $8; call 357-4102.

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Michael Fox

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