Bruce and Norman Yonemoto are video artists who live a short drive from Hollywood, on the beach in Venice. Last week the brothers left their surfboards behind and flew east to attend the opening of the Whitney Biennial, where their videotape will be screened through June 2 as one of the best of the past two years.
A showing at the much-discussed biannual roundup is an honor for an artist, equal perhaps to a Pulitzer Prize for a journalist or an Oscar for a screen star. But the Yonemoto brothers were not particularly excited.
"Look at it this way," said Norman. "We have to come to New York to be honored for something that Hollywood won't even recognize."
"This show is really for those New York painters," said Bruce. "The real honor would be for Hollywood to recognize us."
Hollywood probably won't recognize the Yonemotos. "Vault," the title of their 10-minute color video, one of 15 selected for the Biennial this year, makes fun of Hollywood television programs, and Hollywood, as Norman points out, "is not a place noted for ironic self-reflection."
Starring a female pole vaulter and a male surfer, with coy references to "Dynasty," "Knots Landing," "Dallas" and other shows, "Vault" takes on the melodrama of contemporary television. It verges on camp without becoming fey.
A few years ago, by all reports, the curators at the Whitney would never have selected a videotape like this. Video art was believed to be somehow better than television, not a response to it.
But there are other tapes this year, such as "Perfect Lives," a seven-segment, made-for-television, small-town drama with strong narrative lines, a sense of irony and an accessibility not found in more abstract video works in the past.
"For years people have asked me, 'What is video?' " said Norman, "and I have always said it is just television used by artists. It's so hard for them to understand that television has many unexplored uses."
Maybe they will now?
"Oh, I doubt it," said Bruce. "But I am certain of one thing -- people do want a good story, even if it's just cheap melodrama."
"Cheap melodrama it will be," said Norman. "What is, is what is."