Magazine article Artforum International

Out of the Dark: BRUCE JENKINS ON PAUL SHARITS

Magazine article Artforum International

Out of the Dark: BRUCE JENKINS ON PAUL SHARITS

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE FEW MISFIRES in the Whitney's landmark 2001 exhibition "Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977" was its partial reconstruction of Paul Sharits's 1975 film installation Shutter Interface. While the work was accorded pride of place on the cover of the show's catalogue, in the gallery it seemed anemic. Amid pitch-perfect re-creations of Robert Whitman's Shower, 1964, and Michael Snow's Two Sides to Every Story, 1974, as well as the brilliant installation version of" Anthony McCall's interactive film projection Line Describing a Cone, 1973, one encountered an aloof two-screen version of Sharits's piece configured at merely half its original size and volume. The quarter century that intervened between the work's premiere and its rediscovery had not been particularly kind to the piece or to its maker. Portions of the picture elements of Shutter Interface had been thought lost, and the filmmaker would die in 1993, at the age of fifty.

At the time of the installation's creation, Sharits had made the classic error of believing he was witnessing the beginning of an era, though in actuality it was coming to a close. The limited space that had been opened up in the late 1960s and early '70s for film installation within the institutions of gallery and museum was beginning to disappear. Henceforth those arenas would grant admittance to moving-image work primarily rendered on video. Film was about to take a long hiatus, and while it was still occasionally acquired by museums and collectors, increasingly it would be displayed only in neutralized forms--in cans inside vitrines or projected on occasion in isolated screening spaces. Critical interest in the form of cinema that Sharits had pioneered returned to the more fringe circuits of experimental film, and showings abounded mainly on the screens of college classrooms. His forays into film installation had subsided by the early '80s, and his response to the institutional indifference to that work--a return to the painting of his early career--itself garnered only modest critical reception.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Against this less than promising backdrop, then, the recent exhibition of the complete four-projector version of Shutter Interface at Manhattan's Greene Naftali Gallery came as an extraordinary gift. Looking as pristine and potent as it did when it was first presented at Artpark in upstate New York in the mid-70's, the installation, meticulously restored by Anthology Film Archives, presented an immersive array of alternating solid-color frames continually shifting across the gallery wall in a simulation of an endless lateral filmstrip. The keys to the piece, now as then, are its physical presence, the slightly enigmatic sound-image relationships, and the constantly permuting synthesis of hues and patterns--what Sharits termed a "pulsating dialectic"--that emanates from the roughly six-minute film loops whose monochromatic images are set into overlapping interplay by the quartet of projectors. But if the work is (thankfully) unchanged, we are not, and our willingness to embrace Shutter Interface three and a half decades after its production provides a remarkably accurate sense of just how far ahead of his time the artist was. As Sharits confided to the curator Gary Garrels in a 1982 interview, "People have not developed a way of reacting to seeing a film in the same way that they would react to, say, a Rothko after all these years of abstract painting." The passing years would seem at last to have yielded viewers and gallery goers capable of such responses.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

What has taken us time to fully grasp and then aesthetically accommodate is the radicality of the break Sharits made. He had abandoned painting by the mid-'60s, seeing in film a practice that provided a greater range of philosophical and aesthetic registers. In short order, he created a series of canonical 16-mm works exploiting the flicker effect, including Word Movie/Fluxfilm 29 (1966), N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), and T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.