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Contemporary Artists Are Bringing the Video Store Back from the Dead

The 'New Release' art show brings back the that big black brick of culture, the VHS tape, giving it a modern art-world twist.

by Kate Messinger
Jun 3 2015, 8:45pm

The abandoned video store at 60 Mulberry Street. Photo by B. Thom Stevenson. All images courtesy of New Release 

An art show run out of an abandoned video rental store in Chinatown is bringing back that big black brick of culture, the VHS tape, and giving it a modern art twist. Curated by Half Gallery director Erin Goldberger with Artha Project, at New Release (which opens tonight), artists B.Thom Stevenson and Phillip Ashley show their movie poster-inspired work in the revived space. In addition, a slew of contemporary artists like Peter Sutherland, Jeanette Hayes, Leo Fitzpatrick and many more have created their own art videos, transfered them to VHS, and will screen them in the room recreated to look like that local video store you spent most of your middle school Friday nights at.

This particular video rental store was a local social watering hole, bringing people out of their beds and into a community of recommendations and new releases before the age of streaming movies from the solitude of your bedroom, and before Netflix could analyze your taste and supply a few bleak movie options. Remember perusing aisles of VHS covers or trying to steal a peek inside the adult-only section? Or the phrase “Be kind, rewind?" These memories have been filed under deep nostalgia, until now. 

Untitled by Phillip Ashley

“All of my work... is inadvertently influenced by Hollywood, re-runs, basic cable, and past VHS rentals,” Ashley, a painter, sculptor, and video artist, tells The Creators Project. “Seeing the horror movie boxes as a child was pretty influential to me visually,” he remembers. Many of his images show colorful yet mutated faces painted onto plaster, resembling those ominous horror movie covers your parents wouldn't let you rent. 

Stevenson’s paintings are also a nod to the movies he loved as a teenager, utilizing graphic fonts like those from the action flick movie posters of the early 90s, juxtaposed with cultural imagery. It’s a “reprocessing and boiling down of imagery from foreign adaptations of American films,” Stevenson explains. Paired together, the two painters' works transform the space from a retailer of a dying medium back into a collective meeting place, allowing for the discussion, suggestion and community around movies that has been mostly lost with online streaming.

Sixteen by B.Thom Stevens

Beyond tonight's opening, New Release curators will host a series of screening nights with different artists and collectives over the course of the month. Patrons are invited to the back room to peruse VHS classics, watch curated films, or take home copies the artist's videos to play on your own VHS player (if you’re lucky to still own a working relic). 

Some of the not-to-miss videos include Siebren Versteeg's 2 hours of Explosives, Jeanette Hayes' If I told You Once I Told You Twice, and Dwayne Butcher's Watermelon, as well as short films by Joshua Citarella, Ben Clotten and Jed Moch, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree, RUDE Collective, and Chris Succo

Although we would love for New Release to be a permanent reinstatement of the long lost video store, the show will only be on display until June 28th. Act now, before your favorite art video goes back in the vault—forever.

Visit New Release at 60 Mulberry Street, New York, June 3-28. Opening Wednesday June 3, 7-10pm.

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