Critics’ Picks

Jonas Mekas, Film Stills and Installation Quartet: Birth of a Nation, 1997. Installation view.

New York

“Universal Language & the Avant-Garde: Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, and Jonas Mekas”

Maya Stendhal Gallery
545 West 20th Street
May 10–July 28

Hans Richter boiled his film projects down to light, material, and intensity in an attempt to create a “universal language” based on visual perception. In Rhythmus 21, 1921, he plays with the abstract movement of a pulsating, shifting black square. Richter’s artistic collaborator Viking Eggeling responded to this language in kind, evoking musical composition in the changing lines of his Symphony Diagonal, 1925. In this exhibition, the genesis of the two artists’ filmic ideas becomes apparent through a haphazard arrangement of quick sketches that reduce forms to the simplest geometry. The show also documents Richter’s social reach as a filmmaker, with photos of his Dadaist companions, news clippings about his various achievements, and announcement cards from exhibitions. Even transcripts of Richter’s lectures are on view, delivered when he was the director of the film department at the City College of New York, where Jonas Mekas was a student. Despite the abrupt juxtaposition of Richter and Eggeling’s monochromatic drawings with Mekas’s lush, piercing, often blue-hued Film Stills and Installation Quartet: Birth of a Nation, 1997, there is a formal affinity between the rhythmic quality of Richter’s experiments and Mekas’s project—evidenced by a flickering montage of 160 portraits shot between 1955 and 1996 of avant-garde greats such as Stan Brakhage, Chantal Akerman, Hollis Frampton, and even Richter himself.