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Discussion with Kerry Brougher

by Michael Cohen


Tell me about the curatorial themes behind "Hall of Mirrors"?

The idea behind the project was to take a look at how cinema and the visual arts have interacted in the postwar period. The dialogue between art and film from this period differed significantly from that produced prior to World War II. Cinema, having been around for fifty years, had crested and become an historical medium. Hollywood's success had hit rough waters; the loss of viewers because of the rise of television and suburbanization, talent lost in the war, the McCarthy hearings, and the Paramount antitrust suit. With these developments, cinema became darker, more self-reflexive.

Sharon Lockhart: Audition Two, Darija and Daniel (1994) At about the same moment modernism was going through its own crisis. The classic-abstract period had wound down and artists began to incorporate images from popular culture; the cinema's accumulated data bank was obviously one of the things these artists turned to. Simultaneously, Weegee comes out to Hollywood and begins photographing behind the scenes, revealing more structures of cinema, such as how models of stardom were created. The people in the exhibition are generally brought together under that premise: dismantling and rethinking the cinematic.

The show is divided into three sections. The first is about looking at the excessiveness of Hollywood and taking it apart to figure out how film language worked. Seeing how the cinema operated vis-a-vis celebrity and the apparatus itself: projection, screen and theater.

Ray Johnson: James Dean (1945)

Mimmo Rotella: Marilyn Monroe (1963)

Richard Hamilton: My Marilyn (1965)

This examination becomes more and more reductive as it goes along, and the second section of the show finds cinema at degree zero. An aesthetic pared down to the most basic, fundamental aspects of film; the projector itself, celluloid as a material, optical devices, etcetera. For example, Tony Conrad's projector installation which reduces film to its most basic element, which is nothing but flickering light.

Is that model based on Structuralist filmmaking?

Absolutely, structuralist filmmakers were clearly interested in revealing the cinematic apparatus. But I didn't want this section to be limited simply to materialist filmakers such as Michael Snow or Peter Kubelka, because this idea is also represented in the work of artists like James Coleman who takes a half-second from the film "The Invisible Man" and reveals its dissolve mechanisms by stretching these shots out to two-and-a-half hours.
John Baldessari: Black and White Decision (1984)

In the third section of the exhibition, content is brought back into play. Particularly from the late 1970s, we find a return to the use of film language in artists' and filmmakers' work, coupled with a nostalgia for the cinema of the past. For example, Cindy Sherman's "Untitled Film Stills", where she plays off the look of American film noir and European art films to investigate issues regarding the male gaze and women's roles in cinema.

Nostalgia and late 1970s work aren't usually associated. Could you elaborate?

The late 1970s is about the time that the great last movements of cinema petered out. With the advent of the whole Star Wars generation, cinema became something else, a real spectacle; theme parks, Las Vegas, computer software, etc. And so, while you had film returning to a economic health, it no longer seemed to be an art form. Cinematheques and art theaters sadly started dying out at that point. So I think there was sense of the absence of cinema. While you could still go to the movies, the movies and the people who had seen them no longer really existed. Hiroshi Sugimoto marks this loss by photographing movie palaces which he shoots by keeping his camera shutter open for the duration of the film screening. So what you're actually seeing on these bright white blank screens is the entire film, which no longer exists. You can't see it anymore, so there's an absence. The film is haunting these old, crumbling movie palaces, which are all that remain.

Is the theme of voyeurism integral to each section of the exhibition?

The voyeurism theme is present in a great deal of the work in the show. From Edward Hopper's
Victor Burgin: detail from The Bridge (1984)
painting that launches the exhibition, in which our focus is not the screen but the female usher and the audience, all the way to Diane Arbus' photos. But the voyeuristic dynamic comes on strongest in the last section of the show: in the work of Judith Barry, who offers a Hitchcockian Rear Window into little urban tableaus, or Douglas Gordon's creepy, staged archival footage of a female hysteric.

Douglas Gordon: Hysterical (1995)

Click on the picture to download a 1.3MB Quicktime clip of Jeff Wall's "Eviction
Struggle"
It's also very present in the video clip from Jeff Wall's work "Eviction Struggle", where we obsessively watch and re-watch this cop fight we've viewed at a distance in his accompanying large scale, Cibachrome transparency landscape. That's why we hung the Dali backdrop from "Spellbound" above this section--to acknowledge Hitchcock's hovering, voyeuristic influence. We also featured clips from Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom", which perhaps contains cinema's most pointed references to watching through the filmic apparatus.

I've been to several Warhol retrospectives but none featured the "Screen Tests". Is there any reason they've never been exhibited before?

There are about 400 screen tests, and one of the reasons they haven't been shown is that a lot of them were in storage at the Factory. There are hundreds and hundreds that haven't been restored. Those we used are the ones that were just conserved.

Each screen test was a three-minute spool of 16-millimeter film. Andy would have you come in and sit down in a chair and he'd turn on the camera. You would do whatever you wanted 'till the film ran out. This method brings up issues of materiality, duration and stardom. The returned stare of superstars like Lou Reed or Edie Sedgewick also underscores these same issues of cinematic voyeurism.

More Interviews:

Introduction | Larry Clark Interview | Robert Longo Interview | Kerry Brougher





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