New York


New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

Film is the 20th century’s capital art form, but it is also a medium whose narrative, structural, and semiological features have been broadly exploited by contemporary artists. Sharing with television and photography the cultural impact associated with techniques of mechanical reproduction, it has become both direct reference and underlying subtext in a wide range of the last decade’s artwork. Sponsored by the Kitchen Center for Video, Music, Dance, Performance and Film, and cu-rated by exhibiting artists Dennis Adams and Steve Derrickson, “Cinema-object” came billed as the first exhibition to examine this esthetic “dialogue” with film.

The failings of “Cinemaobject” can, I think, be attributed to two notable absences: first, a catalogue might have lent theoretical input to the relationship entertained. Second, a clear organizational structure might have averted the vagueness of this group exhibition of work by 24 artists. For without a defined perspective or theoretical position, “Cinemaobject” appeared an unanalytic hodgepodge, a roundelay of often whimsical, sometimes foolhardy, and, not infrequently, serious objects that shared some tangential relation to film. Less an exploration than homage to cinema’s impact, it in no way reflected on what the nature or implications of that impact might be.

The exhibition began near the beginning, with two historical objects (an early movie camera, the Mutoscope, 1900, and a model of the first film studio, the Black Maria) borrowed from the Thomas Edison Museum. Moving through a series of predictable images (Cindy Sherman’s untitled “Film Stills:” from 1979 and 1980, and Robert Smithson’s Towards the Development of a Cinema Cavern, 1971), we then arrived at the show’s major territory, which can be roughly described as encompassing works dealing with the structure of the cinematic apparatus (for example, architect Laurie Hawkinson’s 1983 model for a “cinetrain” that shoots, processes, and projects films through the interaction of eight component parts); works dealing with vignettes drawn from film narratives (i.e., Manny Farber’s The Honeymoon Killers, 1979); those treating the ambience or “look” of the cinema (contributions by Ericka Beckman,Troy Brauntuch, and Mark Innerst); and those dealing with the notion of the look, gaze, or—more precisely—relations of specularity that are implicit in the operation of mainstream film. In general, it was the latter category, which included photographs or photographs-cum-texts by John Baldessari and Victor Burgin, along with Dan Graham’s “specular” model for a cinema, that seemed most intellectually productive, since they dealt with the sexual stereotyping, voyeurism, and devices of social subjection whose analysis has become an important activity of contemporary cinema studies. Indeed, the way film works (to quote Graham in his wall-label text) “to produce a social subject through manipulating the subject’s imaginary identifications” defines its power or ideological suasion and, in this manner, underlies its cultural impact. This “first exhibition:” like many initial endeavors, only hinted at the terrain to be traversed.

Kate Linker