PRINT February 2016


“Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact”

Nicolas Provost, Gravity, 2007, HD video, color, sound, 6 minutes 17 seconds.

“ICONS OF HOLLYWOOD have richly circulating afterlives which belie the alleged obsolescence of the medium,” writes curator Robert M. Rubin in his introduction to the catalogue for the Museum of the Moving Image’s dense and eccentric show “Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact.” It is, he declares, “A goddam zombie apocalypse.”

Or maybe the Dream Dump described in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939)—the “Sargasso of the imagination” that his protagonist encounters slogging across a studio backlot. The notion that we’re all out there lost among the stars is not unfamiliar. Ronald Reagan and Jean Baudrillard dramatized it in the 1980s; Robert Zemeckis made it the subject of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) and Forrest Gump (1994).

At a time when TV and the DVD player have long since domesticated the movies and the Internet has normalized our lives amid the phantoms, it’s instructive to stroll through “Walkers” and among the old gods caged in vitrines as if they, not we, were the walking dead. One enters the exhibition via a stairwell installation of Guy Maddin’s eleven-channel Hauntings, 2010, composed of the artist’s overheated versions of lost films by makers as disparate as Hollis Frampton, Fritz Lang, and Oscar Micheaux. As Umberto Eco wrote of Casablanca, it’s The Movies.

On the one hand, “Walkers” has affinities with exhibitions like “Postcards from Alphaville,” at PS1 in 1992, and “Spectacular Optical,” at Thread Waxing Space in 1998, which focused, respectively, on art inspired by the films of Jean-Luc Godard and David Cronenberg. On the other hand, the show’s juxtaposition of real and fake (or art and artifact) recalls temples of the ersatz such as Buena Park, California’s no longer existent Palace of Living Art at Movieland Wax Museum and the Cinema Museum of Ouarzazate in Morocco—either of which, miniaturized like one of Brainiac’s captured cities, could have been included in Rubin’s show. (Gregory Crewdson’s deadpan photographs of empty epic sets are particularly suggestive of Ouarzazate.)

Appropriation runs rampant; Richard Prince is so outlandishly ubiquitous, he might have appropriated the entire show. (Even Cindy Sherman’s lone piece is incorporated into one of Prince’s.) The abundance of tabernacles, themed environments, and collectibles suggests the third floor of Jim Shaw’s New Museum survey. Mario Ybarra Jr.’s fastidiously artless Scarface Museum, 2013, a two-vitrine arrangement of action figures, pseudo props, tchotchkes, and other epiphenomena associated with the 1983 Brian De Palma film, is a synecdoche for much of the exhibition. Wild Card, 2008, Mark Flood’s crude outsize collage of clipped star portraits, is another. There are even meta-collectibles: Prince’s 2012 Untitled (Bob Hope) embeds two Bob Hope porcelain trophies within a blown-up photo of Hope golfing with Jackie Gleason and a costumed chimp.

Naturally, The Searchers (1956) and Vertigo (1958) rate shrines—as do Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Day of the Locust (1975). The last assemblage includes Nathanael West’s Bible, with a place mark at Exodus 10 (the plague of locusts). Incognito, 2003, Isaac Julien’s hyperreal life-size Melvin Van Peebles, is a relaxed presence. But mainly the stars are ripe for desecration. Kristen Morgin’s clay-and-crayon Life magazine cover makes Sophia Loren coequal with Disney creatures and scribbled graffiti. Subject to a layer of expressive doodling in Pierre Bismuth’s 2011 C-print, Gene Tierney is redeemed by the surrealist glamour of Nada Ackel’s 2015 painting Laura.

Amid the ruins, artists insert themselves. Brice Dellsperger’s 2001 video Body Double 15 features Dellsperger as someone like Angie Dickinson in something like the museum scene from Dressed to Kill (1980). Yasumasa Morimura poses as Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour (1967) in his 1996 self-portrait. (Too bad there was no room for Paula Abdul’s 1991 Rebel Without a Cause music video remake “Rush Rush,” in which she, as Natalie Wood, was the movie’s protagonist.)

The Dream Dump expands. Props are re-created, as with Adam Savage’s Dr. Strangelove–inspired Kong Survival Kit, 2015. The car chases from Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) are reduced to text in Fiona Banner’s 1998 silk screen. Unmade movies are celebrated, notably Orson Welles’s never-to-be Heart of Darkness, which shares a room-size installation with Apocalypse Now (1979) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) (with 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” in heavy rotation), all related to various Banner projects.

Hollywood movies are hacked or remade. Michel Gondry’s “Sweded” version of Taxi Driver (1976) is an extension of his 2008 tribute to obsolete VHS technology, Be Kind, Rewind. As propulsive as Francis Alÿs’s 16-mm wooden machine gun, Nicolas Provost’s Gravity, 2007, oscillates osculations from Vertigo, Blue Velvet (1986), Duel in the Sun (1946), and roughly a dozen other movies. You can’t get these revved-up revenants out of your mind.

The most ghostly artifact is the five-minute loop taken from a scene deleted from the release print of the 1971 hippie-film maudit Vanishing Point (re-created forty-odd years later, along with comparable nonperformances, as part of Agnieszka Kurant’s twenty-three-minute video Cutaways, 2013). The existential hero Kowalski (Barry Newman) picks up a mysteriously cowled hitchhiker—Charlotte Rampling! They ride through the night, share a joint, and make inane conversation (accompanied by blatant Muzak) until, chanting the name “Kowalski,” she confesses that she’s been waiting all her life for him to come along.

Sure she has. A fetishized fetish object, the impossibly beautiful Rampling provides a wistful moment of contemplative absurdity in the clamorous haunted house of “Walkers.”

“Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact” is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, through Apr. 10.

J. Hoberman is a frequent contributor to Artforum.