Expanded Abstraction: Animated Film and Digital Art on View at Stark Bar

January 25, 2012

By popular demand, this program has been extended through February 16!

January is the last month to view a special HD program of abstraction for three screens at LACMA’s Renzo Piano–designed Stark Bar. Curated by Cindy Keefer from the Center for Visual Music (CVM), the program features stunning abstract animated film and digital work by artists Scott Draves and The Electric Sheep, Robert Seidel, Baerbel Neubauer, Christina McPhee, and Maura McDonnell, as well as a historical piece by Charles Dockum (1904–1977).

Two of the works presented at Stark Bar were created specifically for LACMA; three originated in other cities. Scott Draves’s Generation 244 genetic algorithms and Robert Seidel’s vellum have been presented as site-specific, multiple-screen installations in New York and Seoul. Baerbel Neubauer’s playful animated Water Ambiences, a new work created for the LACMA screens, explores water rhythms, one of the themes also seen in Christina McPhee’s new nine-screen Bird of Paradise. Maura McDonnell’s Silk Chroma was originally performed as a visual music installation in Dublin. Charles Dockum’s 1969 Mobilcolor Projector film, originally a 16mm film document of his color organ performance in three movements, was preserved by CVM, transferred to HD, and reformatted to three screens for this LACMA program.

Scott Draves and The Electric Sheep, Generation 244 (still), © Scott Draves and The Electric Sheep

Robert Seidel, vellum (still), © Robert Seidel

Baerbel Neubauer, Water Ambiences (still), 2011, created especially for this CVM Program, © Baerbel Neubauer

The artists here investigate silent lyrical abstract art, though many also work in the visual music tradition of establishing a strong interrelationship of image and sound. Charles Dockum’s Mobilcolor work, live performance of projected abstract colored lights, is part of the color organ history that includes Thomas Wilfred and is a pre-digital forerunner to today’s veejay culture and live cinema. Dockum worked in Altadena for decades and was supported by the Guggenheim Museum (then the Museum of Non-Objective Painting).

Christina McPhee, Bird of Paradise (still), created especially for this CVM Program, © Christina McPhee

Maura McDonnell, Silk Chroma (still), © Maura McDonnell

Charles Dockum, Mobilcolor Projections, 1969, courtesy of Center for Visual Music, © Greta Dockum

The Center for Visual Music is a non-profit archive dedicated to visual music, abstract cinema, and experimental animation. Its film and video programs can be seen in museums and cultural centers worldwide, and its archives house the world’s largest collection of visual music resources, including the films and papers of filmmaker-artist Oskar Fischinger. In 2011, CVM presented a Jordan Belson retrospective at LACMA, and in April it will present two special film programs in the Bing Theater in conjunction with the current exhibition California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way, including a retrospective of films by Oskar Fischinger.

The videos can be seen at Stark Bar, located on the BP Grand Entrance, through January 31. You can catch them every morning (besides Wednesday) from 10:30 am to noon. In addition, the videos are also on view Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 8 pm to 11 pm and Tuesday from 9:30 pm to 11 pm.

Cindy Keefer, Center for Visual Music

Oskar Fischinger and California Abstract Animation

April 26, 2012

Once upon a time, California was home to groundbreaking work in abstract, avant-garde animation. One of the most influential abstract animators was Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967), brought to Hollywood by Paramount from Berlin in 1936, thus becoming the direct link from the European avant-garde film movement to West Coast experimental filmmaking.  Fischinger’s animated films were quite successful in Europe in the 1930s, screening in first-run theatres worldwide. This Friday we explore this rich, pre-digital history of abstract animation and “visual music,” when Center for Visual Music (CVM) and LACMA present “Design in Motion: Oskar Fischinger and Abstract Animation,” a two-part series highlighting California abstraction on film.

The first program, “Optical Poetry: An Oskar Fischinger Retrospective,” includes his famous European work and films made in Hollywood. His films influenced generations of filmmakers, animators, and artists and we’ll see some of their work in the second program.

Fischinger produced more than fifty short films and eight hundred paintings and is recognized as the father of visual music and the grandfather of music videos. Today his films screen worldwide, his paintings are in major museums, and an HD installation by CVM re-creating his early expanded cinema performances, Raumlichtkunst, opens at the Whitney Museum and Tate Modern this June.

Oskar Fischinger, Kreise (still), 1933, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

Fischinger lived and worked in Los Angeles from 1936 until his death in 1967, though his independent artistic vision didn’t mesh well with studio expectations. He resigned from Paramount over creative differences and had difficulty at Disney (where his Fantasia designs were deemed too abstract). He worked briefly for MGM and Orson Welles. With support from the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York (which became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), he bought back his unfinished film from Paramount and completed it in 1943.  The resulting film, Allegretto (screening Friday), is one of the most popular abstract animated films of all time.

Oskar Fischinger, Allegretto (still), 1936–1943, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

In California, Fischinger began painting, and his ties to LACMA go back as far as 1949, when Fischinger’s artwork was included in the California Centennial Exhibition and the 1952 show Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Oskar Fischinger in his Hollywood Studio with painted panels from his film Motion Painting no. 1 (1947), © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

In the 1940s and 1950s, Fischinger’s studio in his West Hollywood home became a mecca for experimental filmmakers who came to see his films and to show him their own: Jordan Belson, Harry Smith, Maya Deren, the Whitney Brothers, and others. Orson Welles, Paul Hindemith, and many European émigrés visited, as well as Fischinger’s close friends Jules Engel, Galka Scheyer, and Harry Bertoia.

Oskar Fischinger, Muntz TV commercial (still), 1952, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

The final program, “Color and Form: Modernist Animation in California,” features more abstract animation made in California and Fischinger’s Muntz TV ad. In San Francisco, Belson began developing an entirely new abstract language in his films beginning in 1947, and we’ll screen several rarely seen films, including Mandala and Caravan. Also in the Bay Area, Harry Smith produced his first hand-painted animations. In Los Angeles, Engel, emerging from UPA Studios, began making his own personal art films. His Landscape, Play Pen, and Mobiles screen Friday. And in Altadena, Charles Dockum invented a Mobilcolor light projection system, which he performed locally.

Charles Dockum with his Mobilcolor II light projector, in his Pasadena Studio, 1942, © Greta Dockum, courtesy Center for Visual Music

It’s a rare opportunity these days to see so many films in restored 35mm and 16mm original formats. All prints are from the collection of Center for Visual Music; the Fischinger films were restored by CVM, the Academy Film Archive, EYE Film Institute (Amsterdam), and the Fischinger Archive. The films will be screened in the Bing Theater. LACMA members and Film Club members receive discounts on tickets.

Cindy Keefer, curator/archivist, Center for Visual Music

The Center for Visual Music is a non-profit archive dedicated to visual music, abstract cinema, and experimental animation.

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