Magazine article Artforum International

Stan VanDerBeek

Magazine article Artforum International

Stan VanDerBeek

Article excerpt

MIT LIST VISUAL ARTS CENTER

CAMBRIDGE, MA

William Kaizen

STAN VANDERBEEK remains best known for the experimental films he made during the 1950s and '60s, which placed him at the forefront of avant-garde cinema. This first retrospective exhibition of VanDerBeek's work, cocurated by Joao Ribas and Bill Arning, offers the chance to more broadly consider his visionary engagement with the postwar communications revolution. Indeed, seeing this much of his work together makes it seem both utterly contemporary and oddly quaint. VanDerBeek's use of multiscreen projection and his transformation of the white cube of the modernist gallery into the black box that dominates so many large-scale exhibitions today mark him as a harbinger of art's current obsession with moving images. But the many formats he used--including 16-mm film, slides, broadcast television, fax machines, and mainframe computers--are outmoded in the age of new media, lending the exhibition a not entirely unpleasant, if slightly musty., whiff of retro-chic obsolescence. The utopianism that underlies his technological restlessness has aged less well. His work fits better with the technophilia of the mid-'90s and the first wave of Net art than in today's atmosphere of heightened technological skepticism.

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VanDerBeek, who died in 1984 at age 57, didn't live to see the rise of the Web, bur his writing is a strong precursor to the celebration by Wired et al. of global, rhizomatic computer culture that proliferated during the original Internet boom. This exhibition is named after one of his most farsighted essays, "Culture: Intercom," published in 1966 in Film Culture, in which he anticipated many of the ways we now interact with online images. In it he calls for the development of a "non-verbal international picture-language" that would be delivered via a "culture-intercom," where, through the push of a button, the world's treasures would be instantly available. VanDerBeek's notion of an international picture-language is in line with the longstanding modernist dream of a visual Esperanto that would facilitate cross-cultural exchange and greater understanding among the whole of humanity. In the essay, copies of which are displayed in the show, he describes vast data banks, accessible from anywhere on the planet, where groups of people effortlessly share audiovisual information regardless of national boundaries.

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VanDerBeek's own approximation of a culture-intercom was far more spectacular than some push-button gadget. From 1963 to 1965 he operated a "Movie-Drome" in his backyard in upstate New York. He simultaneously projected an encyclopedic variety of films and slides across its planetarium-like interior in shows designed, he wrote, to allow the audience to "grasp the flow of man." The Movie-Drome was the most ambitious realization of his multiprojection work, but he made numerous similar pieces. These include Movie Mural, 1968/2011, the exhibition's centerpiece, which has been re-created from notes and photographs of its original installation. Video projectors, speakers, chattering slide carousels, and an overhead projector are arrayed across a table, with several more projectors sitting on the floor. These beam a multitude of images over three freestanding walls arranged in a semicircle. …

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