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Abstract Cinema and Technology at MOCA North Miami

Video Projector in Oscar Fischinger’s Radio Dynamics room.

Last night MOCA North Miami opened Abstract Cinema and Technology. Curated by MOCA Executive Director and Chief Curator Bonnie Clearwater in association with MOCA Exhibition Coordinator Kevin Arrow the exhibition showcases a large number of works of various sizes and lengths by a range of artists who broke boundaries in film making since 1921 and those currently working with abstract moving images. Similar to the Pivot Points exhibitions showcased by the museum in 2008, there were no heady and hard to fathom or tenuous concepts; to the contrary this inviting exhibition, which presents an engaging vista of seductive screens is both interesting and beautiful in its simplicity.

From concentric hypnotic Mandala-esq configurations…

James Whitney, Lapis, 1966.

…to throbbing vortexes…

James Whitney, Lapis, 1966.

…Post- Industrial era animation…

Len Lye, A Colour Box, 1935.

…computer system generated work…

C.E.B. Reas, Process 16 (2006).

…and degenerating Beatles…

Cory Arcangel, Untitled (After Lucier), 2006.

…the chronology is elegantly jumbled so for the most part one has to guess which film is contemporary and which film is historic. While the content of the films often betrays the date of their inception (such as Cory Arcangel’s Untitled (After Lucier), 2006) the accompanying soundtrack is often a clear indication of their age, ranging as it does from upbeat and soporific electronica to epic spaced-out sitar sessions and classic jazz (that said, Arcangel’s piece happens to be silent!).

Featuring works by Jose Alvarez, Cory Arcangel, Jordan Belson, Jeremy Blake, Mary Ellen Bute, Marcel Duchamp, Oskar Fischinger, Jiae Hwang and Nicolas Raftis III, Nam June Paik, Len Lye, Kevin Medal, Bruce Nauman, C.E.B. Reas, Hans Richter, Harry Smith, Jen Stark, Jennifer Steinkamp, Stan VanDerBeek, and James Whitney the exhibition includes early experimentations with celluloid, color, light, and sound together with more recent digital technologies that in addition to affording mind boggling complexities also enable interactivity (especially noted in the case of Metastability Mirror (2009) by Jiae Hwang and Nicolas Raftis III, an atmospheric work of ghostly forms and sounds that change in relation to the viewer.)

“It is fascinating to see the early and recent works together and to see how they are similar or different. It is also rare to see the early film work.  As a Rothko scholar, I’m also fascinated by how film and other technologies made it possible to achieve physically what abstract artists aimed to do in painting, i.e. create the sense of movement of form in space, envelope the viewer in the compositional field, and make the connection between music and abstract form.” Says Executive Director and Chief Curator, Bonnie Clearwater.

Jen Stark, Streaming Gradient, 2008.

Miami artist Jen Stark took center stage with the third screening of her piece Streaming Gradient (2008), a stop frame animation of pulsing colored circles whose size when compared with that of its debut for Place in Space (Stark’s solo exhibition at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art), its later appearance at MOCA’s tenth OPTIC NERVE (a film festival in which a winning film – in this case Streaming Gradient – is acquired for the museums permanent collection with funds provided by Starbucks), and even many of the works currently on view, was enormous.

Jen Stark, Streaming Gradient, 2008.

The galleries were full last night and it was great to see so many film aficionados, university professors and archivists, alongside Miami artists and museum patrons. Regarding the genesis of Abstract Cinema & Technology, we spoke with Exhibition Coordinator Kevin Arrow who apparently played quite a significant role in pulling the exhibition together.

“Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA’s Executive Director and Chief Curator asked me about two years ago to create a ‘wish list’ of exhibitions, which was my pleasure to assemble. I enjoy creating lists and an Abstract Cinema sampler was one of them. Bonnie also knew that I have also always been a tremendous fan of Harry Smith’s work and that I wanted to bring and share his work with a wider Miami audience. Bonnie has handled the majority of the curatorial responsibility at MOCA for many years, and from my experience she does an excellent job. Pulling together big museum exhibitions is not easy.  My involvement in Abstract Cinema & Technology taught me that this is a complicated process, which requires the skills of a politician and a magician. I enjoyed the process but now have a greater respect for those who curate full time. I mostly enjoy working behind the scenes, like the Wizard of Oz.”

Len Lye, A Colour Box, 1935.

Arrow, who has long been an active participant in the Museum’s undertakings, was understandably jubilant to see this project come to fruition; primarily because of his lifelong passion for abstract cinema, but not least because for the first time his name is on an exhibition at a major museum. He continues: “It’s hard to measure influence. MOCA’s staff is very creative and we’ve always been encouraged to share our ideas. Over the years I have had opportunities to enact some of my ideas.  For example, after showing Bonnie a short film I made in 1999, I was asked to help develop a MOCA program featuring short films by South Florida artists.  This matured into MOCA’s annual summer program, OPTIC NERVE, which is now a full grown living and breathing program, that has Starbuck’s sponsorship and a long list of really good artists. It has tracked a nice slice of Miami’s film and video history.”

Jennifer Steinkamp, Smokescreen, 1995-2004.

It seems then that as a venue for the exhibition of both emerging and historical works of art the museum plays a big part, as it should, in the furthering of local art practices. The timely nature of its exhibitions speaks to a curatorial team that understands very well how to engage locally and reflect globally. In particular this show provides insight through example into how creative innovations and advances in technology (often a direct result of creative innovation) have allowed for development of and greater dexterity within the field of abstract film and the technologies that support it. Engendering – or at the least demonstrating – a touching affection for this genre, its variety and history, this exhibition is about as enjoyable, informative and unjaundiced as a product of a specialized interest could reasonably hope to be.

Kevin Medal, As Pergill Us, 2008.

MOCA’s Executive Director and Chief Curator Bonnie Clearwater concludes: “MOCA has a history of showing multi-media works and there is clearly a great interest in new technology among Miami artists and filmmakers. Of course, with our OPTIC NERVE series we have developed a big audience for experimental film, including the artists on my staff, like Kevin Arrow! We often respond to the interests of local artists as we see the museum as a resource for them.” Arrow adds “Miami has many strong artists and filmmakers.  We thought it would be enlightening to bring in works that are often written about in film history books but are rarely shown in a museum setting, and juxtapose these historic works with contemporary films made both locally and from abroad. MOCA’s permanent collection also has a strong abstract film component, so this was a great opportunity to exhibit the works of Jen Stark, Jose Alvarez and Jennifer Steinkamp alongside Oscar Fischinger, Harry Smith and Jordan Belson.”


This exhibition runs through until May 10th, 2009

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On view from April 13th Associate Curator of Abstract Cinema and Technology, MOCA’s Exhibition Coordinator Kevin Arrow, has a solo exhibition entitled Burning Bright opening at Farside Gallery (1305 Galloway Road (87th Avenue), Miami, FL 33174). Fusing his interest in obsolete media, archival tendencies, the ephemeral object and humor this exhibition will bring together multiple facets of Arrow’s artistic practice including paintings, drawings, projected media and found objects. Taking its name from William Blake’s poem of 1794 entitled “The Tyger” the exhibition will feature bespoke works and works from the collection of Dr. Arturo and Liza Mosquera. Opening reception is on April 25th between 7pm and 9pm.



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Abstract Cinema and Technology at MOCA North Miami