Louis Zezeran

CRTs in visual art – An art history tour by Steve from Retro Tech

Recently CRT repair expert Steve from Retro Tech has been consulting for a museum, helping them preserve their collection of pro & consumer CRTs.

You may not have considered this before but CRTs have played a huge part in visual art in the 20th century. Almost since they were created, artists have been incorporating them into visual installations. In this podcast, Steve gives us a presentation showing a few of the notable artists from last century who used CRTs in their work.

The CRT visual art presentation starts at 36:51

Why are CRTs important to museums?

When museum curators are putting on installations which incorporate CRTs, they have many of the same concerns we retro gamers have:

Is this the same monitor that the artist originally designed this with?

Did the artist use a consumer CRT because they were going for a soft look? If the curator uses a PVM in it’s place and it produces a very sharp image, does that change the nature of the art? This situation is parallel to the use of composite blending in the waterfall scene in Sonic 1!

Did the artist choose a consumer CRT because that’s all they had available at the time? Maybe they love the idea their art can be displayed with higher quality now. Many of these artists are still alive to give feedback, while some have passed away and museum curators need to make their own judgement.

What medium is the content stored on?

Probably a VHS or later a DVD. If it was VHS, how are you preserving that tape? We know a duplicate of a VHS isn’t a perfect copy so how can we preserve this over the long term? We can digitize the footage but then we need to chose how we encode that. A VHS tape is 480i (an OG Retrotink is useful here) but then we still need to use a device to output that file for playback. Something like a GBS-Control becomes useful here: a cost effective way to downscale a 480p output to 480i for display again on the CRT.

Is art worthwhile?

How about one huge question: Is this a waste of precious CRTs to have them running for 10+ hours each day in a museum? Or how about the opposite, are retro gamers the waste when you have a beautiful BVM D24 and only you can watch it. At least in a museum the device can be viewed by many people.

That’s the thing about great art: it doesn’t necessarily give you answers but it should pose you questions which have no right or wrong answer.

Our CRT knowledge directly translates!

What we are seeing there is many of the issues retro gamers have are exactly the issues that museum curators face when designing these exhibitions. This is why Steve’s work is so important, museums generally don’t have the deep knowledge which he has developed over years of restoring CRTs.

Follow Steve’s Retro Tech channel for more CRT related content.

Follow Zez Retro on YouTube for more Cathode Ray Podcast episodes.