Oh to be in Washington, as this exhibition sounds excellent. Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film is running 17 February-20 May at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009. As the blurb says, “This exhibition will present American realist painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries side-by-side with the earliest experiments in film. Approximately 100 works, including nearly 60 short films (a few minutes long) by Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and the Cinémathèque Française, along with works by American masters such as George Bellows, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, Maurice Prendergast, and John Sloan, will provide a new context for looking at the artists’ choice and presentation of subject matter. For the first time, film will be fully integrated into the history of American art.”
The connection between art and early film is a fascinating subject that needs to be explored more. The work of chronophotographers like Eadweard Muybridge, trying to capture reality through sequence photography, had a particular fascination for realist artists like Frederic Remington, whose paintings of horses must be seen in the light of Muybridge’s famous achievement of photographing a galloping horse. And then the emergence of moving pictures themselves provided an extra challenge for artists who had already had to face up to photography, provoking them into new ways of expression. The early filmmakers were the first surrealists!
Bioscope readers may like to know of an upcoming exhibition at the Pace Wildenstein galleries in New York on the cubist painters which will also explore the relationship of these artists and their work and the films that they would have seen in Paris between 1907 and 1914. Drawing extensively on collections of film in Paris, the BFI National Archive in London and the Library of Congress in Washington this is an ambitious first attempt to trace lines of influence between the worlds of painting and film. It was certainly interesting and challenging for this film curator to think in terms of the interior aesthetics and symbolism of early film and refreshing to see how much practioners of different disciplines can get out of looking at film. A nice change from fretting about the films’ long term survival.
The Exhibition kicks off sometome in April /May – if anyone can get to New York we’d love to know how it looks.
These two exhibitions exemplify an ongoing attitude to cinema, and to art (painting). Cinema is only taken seriously by the establishment inasmuch as it can be subsumed into one of the older, respectable arts. This moving picture exhibition has been touring in the US for some two years now, going to cities such as Baltimore, Williamstown and Washington. Can one even imagine an exhibition about cinema per se touring this extensively? And to cap it all this press release has the cheek to state, ‘For the first time, film will be fully integrated into the history of American art.’ How about turning this around, and giving cinema/film the senior role? i.e. ‘For the first time, American art will be fully integrated into the history of film.’ But then you couldn’t get funding for something like that.
Welcome to the Bioscope, Stephen! Your view on the two exhibitions is naturally trenchant and thought-provoking. The Tate has put on similar exhibition which integrate film and art, and yes we’re always so grateful where the older art form takes notice of us. Of course, exhibition spaces are more geared up for art works rather than film works, which does help privilege painting. But there are touring exhibitions about cinema – there’s one in London at the moment about cinema-going in London pre-1914 which I’ve been involved in (I’ll post news of this when it moves to its new location – it’s just finished in Hampstead). Anyway, I’d be delighted to see either exhibition, wherever they’re coming from and however they’re funded.
Yes, I was being a bit provocative! Actually, I too will always welcome an exhibition about cinema, even if it has to be ushered into the hall, like a naughty teenager, by its respectable aunt, ‘Miss Art’.
I’m also hoping to see more contributions to this marvellous ‘Bioscopic’ site by other early film historians and enthusiasts. This is a real opportunity to get news and queries out to others — no matter where they live or what their exact interests. Do tell others about it.
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