YouTube and Guggenheim: Legitimizing Remix in the Museum

In a cultural industry charged with legitimizing history, legacy, truth, progress, creativity and everything in between, the museum’s relationship with the moving image is certainly in a state of transition. “Applying Lotman’s assertion that “culture is the non-hereditary memory of the community” in the form of encoded artefacts, Irvine argues that “we can’t help but remix in the form of Remix+.”  In 2010, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City embraced this mode of thinking in the form of the Guggenheim YouTube Play Biennial.

It’s not about what’s new…it’s about what’s next,” boasts YouTube Play’s host, pinpointing what most public organizations and institutions seem to continually overlook.  While MoMA’s mission statement emphasizes “that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and involve all forms of visual expression…as well as new forms yet to be developed or understood, that reflect and explore the artistic issues of the era,” the Guggenheim Foundation focuses on “the understanding and appreciation of art, architecture, and other manifestations of visual culture, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods…and strives to engage and educate an increasingly diverse international audience through its unique network of museums and cultural partnerships.”  Just as Irvine argues that “current technologies enable us to implement and automate pre-existing symbolic functions,” wherein we “always dialogically, collectively ‘quote ourselves’ to capture prior states of meaning,” the Guggenheim/YouTube collaboration has seemingly addressed  the question of authorship and remix as a means of facilitating a conversation between what constitutes high and low art and how the museum-sphere may be subverted in an increasingly digital age.

 Check out this video from the Jury Selection.

While YouTube may not seem a straightforward choice for adhering to a museum’s vision, YouTube Play delivers on both pre-eminent institution’s promises.  Is YouTube modern and contemporary?  Does YouTube transcend national boundaries?  Is YouTube a form of visual expression?  Is it yet to be fully developed or understood?  Does it provide a unique framework for exploring this era’s artistic issues?  Of course it does.

And does YouTube promote an appreciation of other manifestations of visual culture?  Does it cater to an international audience?  Has YouTube utilized the power of a unique network of museums and cultural partnerships?  When one considers the Guggenheim’s dominance in New York City, Bilbao, Berlin and Venice, some may say that YouTube Play satisfies a vast majority of many museum’s guiding principles better than the museums themselves.

But what do such shifts mean for the role of authorship within the institutional setting and how does YouTube’s identity crisis reflect broader issues of cultural authority and cultural gate-keeping? Does the Guggenheim’s inclusion/embrace of remixed video legitimize the hybridity within the high art world or is it a simple headline-grabbing, one-off experiment? filmmaker In Everything is A Remix, Kirby Ferguson argues that “creation requires influence … it isn’t magic.” So to what degree does the Guggenheim’s embrace of such clearly adapted and adopted video art argue on behalf of digital remix culture?”

On July 31st, 2010, a team of Guggenheim curators began the daunting task of rifling through over 23,000 video submissions uploaded through Youtube’s online platform.  Acknowledging this paradigm shift in visual culture, YouTube Play hoped to “recognize the current effect of new technologies on creativity by showcasing exceptional talent working in the ever-expanding realm of digital media.”  With submissions from 91 countries,  this flood of creativity was whittled down to a shortlist of 125 submissions from which 25 were ultimately selected by a jury of 11 renown visual artists. Submission criteria simply stated that the video not be longer than ten minutes in length, that it be a non-commercial production created within the last two years – preferably a world premiere – and that all artists be over 18 years old; thus allowing for a great amount of topical and artistic flexibility.  Jurors included acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aranofsky, performance artist Laurie Anderson, Turner Prize-winner Douglas Gordon, photographer Ryan McGinley, hyperrealist Marilyn Minter, Japanese curator Takashi Murakami, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector.

So what does it mean for authorship if the world’s most renown cultural institutions incorporate highly “quoted” content in their collections? What message is being sent or reflected? Perhaps what is most telling about the Guggenheim Youtube experiment (as the biennial was not repeated in 2012) is the institution and jury’s complete willingness to curate and exhibit a collection wherein over 1/2 of the videos included remixed content. Wonderland Mafia, Auspice, Man with a Movie Camera Remake all topped the Jury’s list. Sound like an endorsement to me.

Works Cited:

“Mission Statement” The Guggenheim Foundation. 2013 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014.< >.

“Mission Statement.” The Museum of Modern Art. 2013 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014.< >.

The Guggenheim Foundation. TGF. 2010 edition. 29-01-2014.< >.

“YouTube Play: A Biennial of Creative Video.” The Guggenheim Museum. 2010 edition. Accessed 29-01-2014. < >.


Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality“. To appear in The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (NY: Routledge, 2014).

Ferguson, Kirby. “Everything Is a Remix.” Vimeo. N.p., 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.

Lotman and Uspensky, “On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture,” New Literary History, Vol. 9, No. 2, Soviet Semiotics and Criticism: An Anthology (Winter, 1978), pp. 211-232.