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John Sanborn | media artist

John Sanborn has been called “a key member of the second wave of American video artists that included Bill Viola, Gary Hill, Dara Birnbaum and Tony Oursler” by Dr. Peter Weibel, director of the ZKM. Sanborn’s career spans the early days of experimental video art in the 1970s through the heyday of 80’s MTV music/videos and 90’s interactive art to the digital media art of today.


Sanborn's work has manifested itself on television (Alive from Off Center, ABC, Channel 4, MTV, Great Performances, Comedy Central), as video installations (Whitney Museum, The Kitchen, Videoformes, ZKM), video games (Electronic Arts), Internet experiences (MGM, Microsoft, Jeu de Paume) and music/videos (Rick James, Van Halen, Nile Rodgers, Grace Jones, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, Philip Glass). He is known for his collaborations with a diverse representation of virtuosic performers, contemporary composers and choreographers. His oeuvre primarily addresses themes of stories and storytelling, philosophies of composition, the power of mythology and the resilience of memory - as he pursues his elusive sense of “NOT ME”.


Over the years, his work has drawn praise from all areas of the press.

  • “… the acknowledged genius in the field…”

  • “… totally mind blowing!”

  • “… astoundingly surreal and thought-provoking”

  • “… video art’s sassiest and savviest proponent”

  • “… the most outstanding artist working in video today”

  • “…rarely predictable and always absorbing”

  • “…for over 40 years, the grand master of video art” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • “In the scope of its ambition and the sheer scale of its production, is a milestone both in video and in music, a brilliant collaboration among a host of important artists.” – Artforum


In the 1970s Sanborn was an artist-in-residence at The Television Laboratory at WNET/13, a groundbreaking environment started by the Rockefeller Foundation and Nam June Paik as a sandbox for video artists to create works for broadcast. He produced works for the VISA series (started by Paik) and showed installations at The Kitchen, Media Studies, Buffalo NY; and the Whitney Museum, participating in 2 biennial exhibitions.


In the 1980s Sanborn was an artist-in-residence at the 1980 Winter Olympics as well as one of the first directors with work appearing on MTV (a music video with King Crimson). He produced hours of performance-based video for the PBS series Alive TV and directed Perfect Lives, the seminal opera for television, by composer Robert Ashley.


The 1990s were spent in California, where he was a pioneer in the early days of Quicktime, consulting for Apple and Adobe on the hardware and tools we use today. In Hollywood and Silicon Valley, he produced technology-based entertainment start-ups (imoviestudio, The Wireless Fan Club) interactive movies (“Psychic Detective”) and some of the first web-based interactive content (Paul is Dead, Blue Funk) – as well as a sit-com for Comedy Central (Frank Leaves for the Orient) and pilots and scripts for Columbia Tri-Star, USA Network, MTV, and the National Lampoon.


In the 2000s Sanborn began making feature length works, and branched out into theatrical projects.  His features MMI, The Planets, PICO (remix) and ALLoT (A Long List of Things) have played at over 150 international film festivals including the Mill Valley Film Festival (Audience Award), the Houston Worldfest (2 Gold Remi Awards), the Seattle, London, Victoria (Best Experimental Film), Tribeca, and Sundance Film Festivals.


Sanborn’s works have been exhibited at contemporary art venues around the world, including the Whitney Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Museum of Qatar, Doha; the Prado, Madrid; ZKM, Karlsruhe; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Videoformes, France, the Tate Modern, London; and the Seibu Museum, Tokyo.


Sanborn’s single channel works have played at the New York Film Festival. The Mill Valley Film Festival, Sundance, the Toronto Film Festival and London Film Festival, among many others.  His video works have been broadcast world-wide on ABC, PBS, RAI, Anntene 2, NHK, Channel 4, and MTV - including programs with Bill T. Jones, Robert Ashley, Philip Glass, Nam June Paik, Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, David Gordon, and The Residents. 


Recent projects include Between Order and Entropy, a career spanning retrospective at ZKM,  in 2022, featuring over 35 single channel works, and 14 installations – the catalog/monograph from the show launches in October 2023; performances of God in 3 Persons, a live video/theater collaboration with anonymous music group The Residents, which premiered at MoMA NY in January 2020, and has played in San Francisco and LA and will tour Europe in the spring of 2024; Alchemy, a 30 screen commission from the National Museum of Qatar, Parade, a public art commission from the City of Berkeley, a dog dreams (of god) commissioned by ZKM, Karlsruhe; and NONSELF a commission from Jeu de Paume, Paris; solo exhibitions at Galerie Tokomona, Paris; Telematic Media Arts and 836M, San Francisco; and the creation of a new religion as installation, The Friend, starring John Cameron Mitchell, which premiered at Festival Videoformes in 2021, and has played at ZKM, Karlsruhe and MEET in Milan. A virtual reality version of The Friend was commissioned by ZKM and has been exhibited there, at Videoformes and the Access Festival, in France.


John Sanborn has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Film Institute, and the Berkeley Film Foundation. Sanborn holds an honorary Master of Cinema degree from ESEC, Paris, and was named as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture for the Republic of France in 2016.


Sanborn’s works are in the permanent collections of MoMA, NY; the Tate, London; ZKM, Karlsruhe; The Metropolitan Museum, NY; The Kunsthalle Praha, Prague; LACE, Los Angeles; The Walker Arts Center; Stanford University, Stanford, CA; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Fundacion Proa, Buenos Aires, Argentina;  INVIDEO - A.I.A.C.E. Milano, Milan, Italy; Minneapolis; New York University, New York, NY; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; The Academy of Media Arts, Cologne, Germany; The Pompidou Center, Paris; Fundació “la Caxia”, Barcelona, Spain; and the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasborug, France.


Sanborn has been awarded commissions from SONY, Comedy Central, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, MTV, Panasonic, Jeu de Paume, the City of Berkeley, ZKM, the BBC, and the National Museum of Qatar.


Sanborn has received awards from the Mill Valley Film Festival (Lifetime Achievement Award), the London Film Festival, the Bologna Video Festival, Festival VIdeoformes, the Tokyo Video Festival, the Dallas Video Festival and the American Film Institute.


Sanborn’s YouTube channel has over 24 million views and over 101,000 subscribers.

some blasts from the past
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