By Zach Schonfeld
On a recent Wednesday in July, I discovered Queen Latifah performing on the fifth floor of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, on what had until recently been a grim stretch of the Bowery.
Actually, she was on a grainy television screen surrounded by media conversion equipment. The footage itself was two decades old, from a Yo! MTV Raps performance filmed in 1993 or 1994—with the stage outfits to prove it. And of the 15 or so staffers and visitors muddling around the exhibit, only two were paying attention to the streaming video: Walter Forsberg, the audiovisual conservator in the process of digitizing the footage, and Gabriel Tolliver, a former associate producer on the show who had brought the battered VHS tape to the museum. It contained the best of the Friday afternoon performances, Tolliver told me. “This was before hip hop got really corporate and the access got cut off,” he recalled.
Welcome to “XFR STN” (that’s “transfer station”), the New Museum’s daunting new project, eight-week exhibit, and transfer lab all in one—an overwhelming attempt to digitize,…