By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; C06
In the newest installment of Prestigious Institutions Slumming It (remember when the Library of Congress acquired Twitter's archives?), the Guggenheim Museum has announced that a new exhibition will come from . . . YouTube.
YouTube Play, which launched Monday, is a partnership between the video site and the renowned art museum. It invites users to submit their short creative videos at http://youtube.com/play. The top 20, chosen by a jury of professional artists, will be on view this fall at Guggenheim museums around the world.
"Philosophically, things like this are very important," says YouTube senior marketing manager Ed Sanders, who compares the effort to the 2009 user-generated YouTube Symphony Orchestra. "There's a lot of video out there that has inspired. . . . We're trying to bubble that content to the surface. The Guggenheim wants to be dazzled."
Nancy Spector, chief curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, calls the collaboration an opportunity to see how new technology platforms might change the video art form. "We are, in a sense, inviting people to raise the standards" of YouTube, she says. "This is aspirational for people who are interested in seeing their work be taken artistically."
Some of what's on YouTube is undeniably artistic. Consider the whimsical stop-motion videos created by the animator PES, or the wall graffiti of artist Blu.
But the gloriousness of YouTube has always been its randomness -- he fact that PES's "Western Spaghetti" is virtually housed next door to Shane Dawson's potty-mouthed vlogs, or the kid with the ukulele.
Elevating the content of YouTube might illustrate the creativity that people are capable of when given opportunities. But might such validating opportunities simultaneously change YouTube's essential freewheeling YouTube-ness? Don't users already curate the works they find most valuable, through clicks and comments?
In some ways, it's strange to introduce a juried sensibility to a relatively new, user-generated world. The issue isn't that one is valid and the other isn't, but that the latter is still figuring out what forms and content it values. It's as if a garden is being tended at the same time it's being planted.
At this stage in YouTube Play's process, it's impossible to evaluate submission quality -- by YouTube or Guggenheim standards. As of Monday evening, YouTube Play had about 3,200 subscribers and 800 comments, many directing viewers to videos already entered in the competition.
Of these, there were things you might expect: a talking piece of citrus fruit named the "Annoying Orange," a man ranting about the "piece of [bleepity-bleep]" camera he'd purchased on eBay. Most appeared to be already existing videos, but YouTube and the Guggenheim hope that many of the final entries will be new creations.
"Our goal is to have this be sustainable and long-term," says Sanders, adding that YouTube Play would become a biennial event and a way to include a wide swath of participants. "The landscape [of art] is being shaped by the people."