For Art Basel Online Viewing Room we are pleased to present two of expanded cinema pioneer Stan VanDerBeek’s most acclaimed experimental films: “Breathdeath” (1963) and “Science Friction” (1959). Both films are part of a larger series of collage animation, Neo-Dada films VanDerBeek made between 1955 and 1965. These works combine highly effective soundtracks with animated painting and drawing collaged onto imagery from popular culture to critically examine the connections between politics and the explosive post World War II commodity culture of America. These were the first films that VanDerBeek made following experimentation with photography at Black Mountain College where he studied as a painter and poet in 1949. A selection of unique and rare collages in the Surrealist tradition realized by VanDerBeek while producing his animated films have also been made available by the estate.
Both films have only recently been preserved onto film using original source material and re-scanned. This marks the first gallery presentation of “Breathdeath.” Prior to this, it has only been screened as part of a 2019 Black Mountain College Museum exhibition. Forthcoming, VanDerBeek will be included in an important group exhibition at MoMA exploring international networks of art, performance and technology. His films consistently screen in exhibitions internationally and his work has recently been acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA.
In VanDerBeek’s lifetime these films were distributed by major film distributors, acquired by institutions and won numerous awards. “Breathdeath” was included in the groundbreaking 1967 European film event “New American Cinema Group Exposition” curated by Jonas Mekas and including other notable filmmakers such as Bruce Conner, Marie Menken, Storm de Hirsh, Shirley Clarke, Stan Brakhage and Robert Breer, to name a few. “Science Friction” was included in the 1973 Art Institute of Chicago exhibition to acknowledge as the curator Camille Cook noted “film is art” and “The film form is not a bizarre aberration – it is here to stay as an application of technology to a creative end.” Other filmmakers included alongside VanDerBeek were Joseph Cornell, Maya Deren, Richard Serra, Kenneth Anger, Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman and Michael Snow, to name a few.
In 1964 VanDerBeek began to realize his “Movie-Drome” at the Gate Hill Coop (also referred to as “Black Mountain of the North”) in Stony Point, New York. A readymade silo top constructed atop a large platform in the woods of upstate, “Movie-Drome” became a community theatre in which VanDerBeek screened his numerous films simultaneously with projections of his drawings, colored gels, found footage, newsreels and junk film while various records were played.
VanDerBeek’s profound understanding of the impact that popular mass media was having on culture fueled his desire to interrogate and infiltrate commercial cinema as well as engage with computer technology. His vision for artists to yield widely distributed imagery as a means for humanistic world communication was articulated in his manifesto “Culture: Intercom and Expanded Cinema.” Published in three different journals in 1966, including “Film Culture” and “Tulane Drama Review” this manifesto epitomized VanDerBeek’s desire for an international, multimedia, forward-thinking network and remains a relevant key to understanding his work. Eight of the frenetic, epic line drawings that VanDerBeek made to accompany his manifesto have also been released by the estate as part of this presentation.
A PDF of the manifesto is available for download here.