The Art of YouTube

The Guggenheim teams with the video site for a digital art competition. Now you can add museum to the Internet’s portfolio.

The video, "David After Dentist," has logged more than 60 million hits on YouTube.

But is it art?

Few likely would mention the videotaped ramblings of a little boy zonked after oral surgery in same breath as, say, Picasso’s Guernica.

But the folks at the Guggenheim Museum and YouTube are recognizing the video site's potential as a forum and tool for art – or at least as an opportunity for some positive publicity.

In a seemingly unlikely partnership, the two very different institutions are teaming up to run a digital video art competition, the Washington Post reports. Some 20 to 25 winners will see their virtual masterpieces featured not only online, but in the Guggenheim’s various museums around the world.

“Everybody could play,” YouTube’s Andy Berndt, said in – what else – a YouTube video touting the contest, called YouTube Play.

The ingenious combo of high, and what some would call low, culture represents a clever way not only to bring art to the masses, but to invite the masses to create art.

The conest is a great example of the Internet's power to connect the world, and spark innovation as more art goes digital. It also marks a further maturation of YouTube, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. The user-generated site previously took a creative step into high-brow territory last year by assembling an orchestra via video auditions – and then bringing the musicians to Carnegie Hall for a performance.

The esteemed concert venue is about two miles from New York's Guggenheim, where curators long ago realized that sometimes the medium is the art. That spirit can be seen in the Guggenheim's swirling, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed pre-Jetsons headquarters (Woody Allen once joked about roller skating down the museum’s internal, corkscrew ramps).

The video venture already has attracted more than a half-million YouTube hits since it went up Monday, and no doubt will draw a variety of fun and visually arresting pieces, all in the name of the democratization of art. But democracy has its limits, even on YouTube: a “jury of experts” will pick the winners following the July 31 submission deadline.

Imagine if the museum and YouTube instead let the public choose the winners – David might have a shot, after all.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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