Tagged: video

The Figure in Contemporary Art: Bodies on Film.



Richard Serra, Hand Catching Lead, 1968. Around the time Serra created this video, he had compiled this verb list, which he went about illustrating through his art. The whole exercise was about material and the body meeting in one simplified action or process. Questions of identity, motive, or emotion are completely separated from this work. It’s simply a hand and a verb.

I recently organized a show of new media works, and realized that my series of short photo essays exploring the human figure in contemporary art was missing a new media presence. With this in mind, I focused my attention towards those dark rooms designated for video art in museums in Beacon, Indianapolis and New York City. Here’s what I found:

Francis Alÿs, Tornado. Part of Alÿs’s solo show at MoMA, A Story of Deception (which is up through August 1). I was taken by photographs of this video so I was excited to finally see the work in person. The video includes footage of Alÿs viewing the tornado from a safe distance, as well as intense shots by him as he runs right into the heart of the storm. Watching the artist’s tiny figure facing down these huge desert dust-devils might seem pointless and painful. But there’s something poetic about it, too — the lonely figure of a man chasing down something profoundly beautiful, powerful and dangerous.

Why Andy Warhol’s ‘Empire’ looks janky.


A still from Andy Warhol’s Empire. (Image courtesy of MoMA. © 2011 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)

Last month, when Liz Arnold (the damsel behind @WNYCculture) and I spent the day live Tweeting all eight hours of Andy Warhol’s static shot of the Empire State Building at the Museum of Modern Art, a number of folks brought up the issue of the film’s quality. Though originally shot on 16mm film, Empire was being shown as a digital transfer (as was the rest of the Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures exhibit — except for a single screen test, featuring Ethel Scull). Now, I’m no film geek (I know more about rainforest ecosystems than I do about film), but the picture did look pretty darn blurry in a non-16mm kind of way, and if you sat in the front rows, you could literally see the pixels.

Which is why I read Amy Taubin’s review of the exhibit in the March issue of Artforum with great interest. (Yes, I was reading Artforum. It was a moment of weakness.) In it, she addresses the poor quality of the transfers and asks the very good question, “What, in fact, is being shown?” After poking around, this is what she came up with:

MoMA then referred me to the source of those transfers, the Warhol Museum, and I discovered that the latter had relied on one-inch and Betacam SP tape ‘masters’ made from the 16mm films. These crude, outdated analog video formats were used as the intermediates for the digital files…

In other words, what we were gazing on at MoMA wasn’t just a copy — but a copy of a copy. (Crazy!) Or as Taubin puts it: “garbage in, garbage out.” For the record: I verified this directly with a spokesperson from the Warhol Museum — who also told me that the 16mm-to-Beta transfer took place back in the ’90s. In other words, for eight hours, we stared at a copy of an old copy.

So, there you go, film nerds: question answered. And if you happen to be within reaching distance of the March Artforum, you’ll find Taubin’s worthwhile (if nuclear) review on p. 260.

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures is up at the Museum of Modern Art through Monday.