If watching MTV programs like Jersey Shore and Sixteen and Pregnant makes you feel dirty, MTV has a pill to relieve your pain. MTV Art Breaks, a collaboration with Creative Time and MoMA PS1, debuts short video clips made by artists including Rashaad Newsome, Mads Lynnerup, and Mickalene Thomas, with more artists to be announced soon. Starting this week, these clips will play during MTV's commercial programming, both online and on cable TV.
This has happened before. In 1985, MTV collaborated with New York's major art stars to produce Art Breaks, which featured videos by Richard Prince, Dara Birnbaum, and Jean Michel Basquiat, among others. This time around, the videos are available to watch on-demand, but there's also a difference in the type of artists chosen to participate. For Art Breaks 2.0, the artists commissioned by MoMA PS1 and Creative Time are emerging stars, but aren't at the Basquiat level of fame. “We hope that 27 years later, people will be talking about Rashaad or Tala Madani in the same way we're talking about Richard Prince and Basquiat,” Stephen Friedman, president of MTV, said of the change.
I'm doubtful that these art shorts will have as much of an impact as the original Art Breaks. Part of the fun (and the critique) was that you'd never know when “art” would pop up during the commercials. As Dara Birnbaum said about her 1987 MTV Art Break, “You had to be glued to see it, it went by so fast.” Now, you can watch the videos online whenever you want—and there's an Art Breaks Tumblr you can follow for updates.
Although there's differences between then-and-now, from what I've seen of the new MTV Art Breaks, the videos' content still reflects the earlier editions: some are flashy and look like music videos, while others have a deep, dark humor. Rashaad Newsome's Art Break looks like a glitzy music video, full of gold teeth and buffeted by a rhythmic soundtrack. That's not a complaint: MTV's original Art Breaks weren't all deep. Richard Prince's video was a lighthearted riff on MTV—he stood in front of the Guggenheim, eating an ice cream cone while saying, “MTV: don't leave home without it.” And Basquiat's clip shows him fooling around with friends in a studio.
By far, my favorite new Art Break is Tala Madani's Under Man. It's a rough animation of a fat man who gets rocks, bricks, and pots, thrown at him in an absurd, Wiley E. Coyote way. Eventually, the fat man decides to kill himself. This WTF moment wouldn't happen in most commercials—after all, suicide isn't really thought of as family-friendly.
Although I doubt that all of the new MTV Art Breaks will be just as provocative as Tala Mandani's farcical animation, I'm still going to follow the Tumblr to see what happens. It's just another way to discover new art, so why not.