Moving Pictures brings together some 150 works by 55 contemporary artists who use photography, films and video as a means of creative expression. The exhibition focuses upon the extensive use of reproducible media which has been observed over the last ten years and proposes that the precursor of this phenomenon was the art of the late sixties and seventies, a period in which moving pictures formed the conceptual basis for the work of a number of artists.
The exhibition includes works by important contemporary artists such as Christian Boltanski, Rineke Dijkstra, Stan Douglas, Olafur Eliasson, Fischli/Weiss, Anna Gaskell, Andreas Gursky, Pierre Huyghe, William Kentridge, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Gabriel Orozco, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Sam Taylor-Wood, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Kara Walker, as well as the creations of Marina Abramovic, one of the pioneers of this means of expression.
Over the last three decades, artists have turned to photography, film, and video as tools with which to articulate their conceptual practices. Whether recording performances or ephemeral events or constructing new realities, these artists have used reproducible mediums as their primary art forms. Eschewing a directly documentary impulse, they have manipulated their representations of the empirical world or have invented entirely new cosmologies. Some artists directly intervene in the environment, subtly shifting components of the found world and establishing their presence in it, while others fabricate fictional environments for the camera lens. This exhibition, drawn from the Guggenheim Museums' collection, will consider the prevalence of such practices in the art of the last ten years.
Drawn largely from the Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collections, Moving Pictures focuses on the variety of approaches utilized by artists working with film, video, and photography today.
The ubiquity of reproducible mediums in contemporary art has a brief but complex history, dating to the 1960s and 1970s when a paradigm shift occurred within visual culture: photography and the moving image were absorbed into critical art practices. In particular, they were used to record performative events, to render visible conceptual systems, or to question the supposed objectivity of representation itself.
The presence of photography, film, and video in the most radical art practices of the 1970s corresponded to their prevalence in all forms of popular representation: television, advertising, cinema, and print journalism. Artists turned to these mediums in order to contest the uniqueness of the art object and to challenge traditional aesthetic categories. By the end of this decade, many artists turned to photography as a vehicle through which to critique photographic representation itself and to subvert an art system premised on the notion of the original. While this practice came to define much 1980s postmodern art, its legacy for the 1990s was essentially the license to indulge in photographic fantasy, image construction, and cinematic narrative. Artists working today freely manipulate their representations of the empirical world or invent entirely new cosmologies. They process their subject matter through conceptual systems or use digital processes to alter their images. Some directly intervene in the environment, subtly shifting components of the found world; others fabricate entire architectural environments for the camera lens.
Moving Pictures is arranged according to thematic categories, which propose ways to understand and differentiate some of the pervasive sensibilities that have come to define the most contemporary of art forms. As is the case with most group exhibitions, categories tend to be subjective and indicate more of a curatorial viewpoint than they do individual artists’ intentions. While any number of works could fall under the rubric of more than one category, the exhibition is divided into sections: "The Empirical Eye," "Performance and the Body," "History, Memory, and Identity," "The Constructed Image," and "Narrative Fantasy."
The Empirical Eye
Much conceptual photography of the 1970s emulated the dispassionate appearance of documentary photography in an effort to shift the focus from aesthetic concerns to the objectifying nature of information systems. Inheriting this legacy, artists today freely manipulate their representations of the empirical world. Olafur Eliasson, Elger Esser, and Rika Noguchi process their subject matter, often the natural landscape, through preordained conceptual systems. In addition to observing nature, artists like Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Struth have turned their attention to documenting the urban condition and its inextricable relationship to private and public space. They have focused on the aesthetics of corporate architecture, the development of suburbia, the notion of international tourism, and the industrial landscape. Gursky and Jörge Sasse use digital processes to alter their images of the spaces of daily reality, such as supermarkets and industrial parks. Other artists, like Gabriel Orozco and Thomas Flechtner, directly intervene in the environment, subtly shifting components of the found world. In a recent video installation, Francis Alÿs, reveals how, under his direction, hundreds of volunteers actually moved a mountain in Peru.
Portraiture figures prominently in the history of photography, whether as self-representation or the documentation of others. Many contemporary artists such as Nan Goldin, Catherine Opie, and Wolfgang Tillmans have utilized the conventions of portraiture to record their own individual communities, giving visual form to subcultures that have often gone unrepresented in mainstream culture. Other artists like Rineke Dijkstra approach portraiture from the tradition of typological depiction, selecting subjects according to profession or location, as in Dijkstra’s series of bathers posed on beaches around the world. Thomas Ruff borrows from one of the most generic forms of portraiture—the passport or ID photo—to create his monumental images of human faces. In the realm of video, Douglas Gordon has explored cinema’s representation of cult personalities with his manipulations of Hollywood footage.
Performance and the Body
Many artists active in the early 1970s turned to their own bodies as both subject and medium. Eschewing the accepted hierarchy of artistic forms—painting, drawing, and sculpture—as well as an art market dependent on the production of objects, artists embraced performance as a transgressive practice. For feminist artists, embodied art offered a means through which to challenge the canon and to foreground their own subjectivity. For others, performance, or "body art" as it was known, became a vehicle through which to explore perception, temporality, process, and behavior—all central tenets of 1970s Post-Minimalism. The vehicles most suited to chronicle and display the ephemeral nature of performance were photography, film, and video, which could capture the artist in action and preserve his or her image indefinitely.
Performative strategies today, such as those practiced by Patty Chang, revolve around issues of the body and related themes, including endurance, sexuality, and gender difference. Informed by the AIDS pandemic and continuously escalating violence throughout the world, some performative art is now explicitly elegiac, as seen in the recent work of Marina Abramovi´c, a pioneer in the field of performance. Other examples of performative work explore the sensate aspects of bodily experience, as Ann Hamilton does in her intimately scaled videos of body parts.
History, Memory, and Identity
During the 1990s many artists began examining how representation has traditionally inscribed difference and "otherness" in terms of sexual orientation, racial identity, and ethnicity, thus opening a new threshold in cultural consciousness. This expanded field of investigation embraced the voices of those who have been suppressed by the status quo, those who have been denied agency under the law, and whose subjectivity has been threatened through bigotry, homophobia, and social intolerance. Historically, hegemonic systems have been predicated on the identification of an oppositional force, a cultural "other"—often located within its midst—against which the system can define itself, thus protecting its cohesion and power.
The cultural "other" takes many forms: In former apartheid-ruled South Africa, it was the Black; in democratic, Western societies, it is often the Queer. Coupled with the increasing globalization of world culture, this investigation of "otherness" has resulted in a new awareness of multiple voices and multiple histories worldwide.
Numerous artists have devoted their work to understanding the representational systems that inform identity and history in their respective cultures, from William Kentridge’s poetic animated films on the ravages of apartheid to Michal Rovner’s abstracted photographs and videos of Middle Eastern countries with contested borders. While Glenn Ligon focuses on the construction of "blackness" and "queerness" in his photographic rethinking of Robert Mapplethorpe’s erotic images, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle explores the notion of identity through the processes of genetic mapping in his DNA photographs. In his series of enigmatic television spots, Stan Douglas examines how the media makes broad assumptions about the make-up of its constituency. And Kara Walker turns to the history of slavery in the U.S. to explore racial stereotypes, combining the practice of silhouetting with projected imagery.
The Constructed Image
From the family photo album to photojournalism, the photograph has been considered a reflection of objective reality. At the same time, however, photography’s ability to record fiction has been an operative part of its history. While some artists utilize photography, film, and video to "document" narrative fantasies, others turn to these reproducible mediums to record different, yet related, untruths.
Many are motivated by an architectural impulse and fabricate environments in various scales for the sole purpose of photographing them. James Casebere has been building miniature model houses and towns since the late 1970s, creating anonymous dwellings for the camera to record. His more recent photographs depict the uncanny environment of institutional interiors—asylums, penitentiaries, etc.—again crafted in miniature. Similarly, Oliver Boberg builds small-scale industrial structures for his photographs. Thomas Demand takes his inspiration from news clippings, creating one-to-one scale environments that emulate banal places in which momentous events have occurred, such as Bill Gates’ college dorm room. He then photographs these sites, rendering them utterly mundane but mysterious in their elusive content. While Miles Coolidge does not construct his environments, he has photographed "fake" locations such as Safetyville, a miniature town in Northern California where children are taught how to follow pedestrian traffic rules.
After decades of conceptually oriented art, much of which interrogated codes of photographic representation, a generation of artists emerged during the 1990s that incorporated pure fantasy in their work. Storytelling, or the narrative structure itself, has served as a medium in its own right, providing artists with a new kind of raw material with which to craft their photographic and filmic imagery. The final work results from the artist’s complete fabrication of a scene or scenario for the camera. During the 1970s much conceptual photography parodied fine-art photography’s romance with reportage and its claims to truth by imitating the look of photojournalism. This was achieved through the construction of mis-en-scènes solely for the purpose of being photographed. Artists such as Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons employed this strategy, but referenced specific cinematic tropes rather than documentation in their fabricated pictures. Today, artists freely invent their own cosmologies, borrowing from a variety of narrative sources ranging from Renaissance altarpieces to video games; Matthew Barney*, Gregory Crewdson, Anna Gaskell, Pierre Huyghe, Mariko Mori, Pipilotti Rist, and Sam Taylor-Wood each create imaginary universes in their elaborately staged photographs, films, and videos.
Matthew Barney began working on his epic Cremaster Cycle in 1994. This self-enclosed aesthetic system, which Barney completed in 2002, consists of five feature-length films that explore the processes of creation and is accompanied by related sculptures, photographs, and drawings. As part of the exhibition Moving Pictures the Cremaster Cycle is simultaneously screened in a site-specific installation conceived by the artist in gallery 103, as well as in the Museum Auditorium.