Reflections on Film 'Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film since 1945,' at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shows How American Movies Feed on - and Feed Back to Us - Popular Culture

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), October 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Film 'Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film since 1945,' at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shows How American Movies Feed on - and Feed Back to Us - Popular Culture


I. Lost Illusions: Dismantling the Dream Factory

This section traces Hollywood's changes after the "Golden Age" that reached its zenith in 1939, a year many cite as Hollywood's best because of the many classic films that appeared that year ("Gone with the Wind," "Stagecoach," "Wuthering Heights," "The Wizard of Oz").

Through heavy-handed promotion, movie stars became famous, but were kept untouchable and unknowable. Hollywood was viewed as the Mount Olympus where these gods resided.

Over the next few years, however, several events diminished Hollywood's dominance. World War II began; TV's popularity skyrocketed; an anti-trust lawsuit forced studios to give up their control of movie theaters; and McCarthyism ended the careers of many Hollywood figures.

Popular films and art reflected this shift in status. Movies such as "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Bad and the Beautiful" illustrated an empire in decline. As a result, the late 1950s and early 1960s found artists such as Mimmo Rotella, Diane Arbus and Andy Warhol portraying cinema as a commodity - a view that subverted the previous notion of film as classical high art.

"Their work wasn't just about Hollywood," says Lucinda Barnes, the MCA's curator of collections. "It was about post-war North America, fascination with stars and glamour, and the rise of media and the consumer society."

Arbus, for example, took pictures of people in a theater watching a movie, which "makes us think about how the whole act of watching movies is part of our lives," Barnes says. "We're seeing this varied mirror of Hollywood and cinema and its impact on us."

II. Cinema Degree Zero: Testing the Limits

The exhibit's second section covers the 1960s and 1970s when artists began examining the fundamental elements of film, and de-emphasizing the importance of stars and storytelling.

Barnes says examples of this work are evident in the art of Peter Kubelka, who displays actual film negatives as art, and Michael Snow, who presents two perspectives of the same scene on both sides of a screen.

"To fully see and comprehend this work, you have to be in it and walk around it," Barnes says. "So not only is he playing with how we perceive a narrative, but he's actually using the notion the cinema as a gallery space."

III. Rear Window: Fragments of the Cinematic Past

The exhibit's third section covers the mid-1970s to the present, which finds artists incorporating older film and visual art in a self-referential context.

Movies such as "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Blue Velvet" and "Blade Runner" incorporate elements of older work in a current, or even futuristic, setting.

The artist Cindy Bernard does something similar in her "Ask the Dust" series, in which she takes pictures of settings used in older movies, including a view of the Golden Gate Bridge as seen in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," and the rooftop used in "Dirty Harry," starring Clint Eastwood.

"If you know the movie, you fill in this empty landscape with your memory," Barnes says. "You see things in your memory that are attached to these films. …

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Reflections on Film 'Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film since 1945,' at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shows How American Movies Feed on - and Feed Back to Us - Popular Culture
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