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Joseph Cornell
Greta Garbo, c.1939

Ray Johnson
James Dean, 1958

Mimmo Rotella
Marilyn Monroe, 

Jean-Luc Godard
Scene from Passion
Nightwatch, 1982

Salvador Dali
Backdrop for 
Alfred Hitchcock's
Spellbound, 1945

Andy Warhol
Film still from 
Empire, 1964

Michelangelo Antonioni
Film Still from
Blow-Up, 1966

John Baldessari
Black and White 
Decision, 1984

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Los Angeles, 1993

Sharon Lockhart
Audition Two:
Darija and Daniel,

Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film 
Still # 54

glow, whir 
and babble: 
film at 100

by Peter Frank

Years in the making! A cast of thousands 

(well, hundreds)! Financed by Time/Warner, 

MCA/Universal, Fox and Paramount (among 

others)! Hovering on the horizon for 

several years, "Hall of Mirrors: Art and 

Film Since 1945" was originally conceived 

as a city-wide extravaganza with which 

Hollywood's two major modern-art museums 

would celebrate the 100th anniversary of 

the medium that built the industry that 

built the town. But the Los Angeles County 

Museum bowed out, so the L.A. Museum of 

Contemporary Art mounted what was left of 

the sprawling multimedia confabulation in 

its mammoth Temporary Contemporary space 

(renamed around the same time, by apparent 

coincidence, the Geffen Contemporary, in 

honor of a $5-million gift to MOCA from 

film mogul David Geffen). There the show 

glows, whirs and babbles through midsummer.

Featuring works by 90 visual artists and 

filmmakers, "Hall of Mirrors" is a funhouse 

maze of art works and projected film 

displays, installed by the design team of 

Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung. Beyond an 

installation piece by Stan Douglas at the 

entry, visitors thread their way through 

175 art objects spread throughout 15 

installations, including one sit-down 

theater and a number of "viewing stations" 

featuring excerpts from foreign films and 

Hollywood movies. 

MOCA curator Kerry Brougher has divided the 

show into three chronological sections. The 

first, spanning 1945 to `65, is called 

"Lost Illusions: Dismantling the Dream 

Factory." It focuses on the self-reflexion 

of both avant-garde art and Hollywood film 

in an era the curator identifies as the 

cradle of the postmodern. The iconic power 

of movie stardom is the subject of 

assemblage works by Joseph Cornell, Bruce 

Conner, Ray Johnson and Mimmo Rotella, 

while the sociology of the movie theater is 

explored in photographs by Robert Frank, 

Diane Arbus and Weegee (preceded by Edward 

Hopper in painting). Dennis Hopper's early 

photos cast a jaundiced lens on the 

underside of movie production. These same 

subjects found their way into films by 

cineastes as diverse as Jean-Luc Godard, 

Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder as well. 

The second section, called "Cinema Degree 

Zero: Testing the Limits," focuses on the 

1960s and `70s, identifying the overarching 

impulse of this period as one of formal 

reduction--especially of narrative content

and the resulting exposure of visual and 

mechanical structure. Andy Warhol provides 

a bridge between the first and second 

sections, elevating--or reducing--the film 

icon to near-stasis in his early screen 

tests while destabilizing painting with 

uninflected repetition and Muybridge-like 

sequentiality. The Minimalist-inspired 

examination of the basic properties of the 

cinema is represented in the films of 

Canadian artist Michael Snow, the 

photographs of film historian Hollis 

Frampton, the conflation of film and live 

performance by Carolee Schneemann, the 

"materialized" films of Stan Brakhage and 

the stuttering frame-to-frame monochromies 

of Peter Kubelka, Paul Sharits and Tony 

Conrad. Such art-world experiments are 

compared to the radically reduced and re-

organized narratives of Godard, 

Michelangelo Antonioni and Kenneth Anger.

John Baldessari's photographs 

recontextualing movie stills, and photographer 

Hiroshi Sugimoto's movie-theater 

apparitions provide the segue 

from this cinema minima into the 

most recent period, which Brougher labels 

"Rear Window: Fragments of the Cinematic 

Past." Here the postmodern condition reigns 

supreme, indiscriminately combining 

personal memory, projected fantasy, social 

critique, camp and parody. Judith Barry, 

Douglas Blau, Victor Burgin, Derek Jarman, 

Sharon Lockhart, Chris Marker, Annette 

Messager, Raul Ruiz, Ed Ruscha, Cindy 

Sherman and Jeff Wall represent the 

extravagances of what could be called an 

astringent but baroque era.

An exhibition as complex and ambitious, and 

yet as selective, as "Hall of Mirrors" 

necessarily omits many more appropriate 

artists than it includes. One can still 

cavil at certain exclusions that seem 

glaring. I wonder, for instance, why Hans 

Richter's Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) 

that grand collaborative dream-film of 

artistic Euro-exiles in New York, is not 

included. And what explains the absence of 

anything by cine-tableauist Jean-Marie 

Straub? I also wonder why Robert Longo and 

Jack Goldstein, Cindy Sherman's movie-

struck comrades-in-art, are not 

represented, and question the absence of 

Jonas Mekas, paterfamilias to the whole 

`60s underground film scene.

If Brougher makes any egregious misstep in 

his overall curatorial conception, it is 

the incomplete distinction he makes between 

artists' fascination with movies and their 

fascination with the physical mechanisms of 

film itself. Cameras and film, projectors 

and screens may inherit much of their 

mystique from their association with 

Hollywood productions, but for artists 

these devices and the effects they produce 

have their own discrete allure. Brougher 

does not separate the lights and camera 

from the action, but his artists do. 

The show as a whole, and by its latter 

section especially, has an elegiac feeling, 

a notion that cinema as we know it, and the 

art it engenders, is fast passing into 

history. Film is giving way to videotape; 

as a result, the movie theater, so central 

to the filmic experience as Brougher 

describes it, is gradually yielding to the 

"home entertainment unit." This transition 

in turn points to the imminent subsuming of 

all cinematic, and artistic, practice into 

the cybercognitive revolution. As this 

environment shrinks from the silver screen 

to the boob tube to the laptop and on down 

the rabbit hole, what is filmic becomes no 

longer cinematic. Are movies still movies 

when divested of their theatricality? When 

you can look at them in your lap like a 

paperback? The next 50 years will tell. In 

the meantime, Brougher intimates, this is 

the way the film ends: not with a FIN but a 

floppy disk.

"Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945" 

is at L.A. MOCA's Geffen Contemporary 

through July 28, 1996. The show travels to 

the Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 

21, 1996-Jan. 5, 1997; the Palazzo 

dell'Esposizioni, Rome, summer 1997; and 

the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, 

Oct. 11, 1997-Jan. 21, 1998.

Peter Frank is art critic for the L.A. 

Weekly and editor of Visions art quarterly.