Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp), Anémic Cinéma, 1926, 35mm film transferred to video (black and white, silent), 7 min., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Acquired from the artist, © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp.

A Fading Static Image Morphs into Fluid Light Projection

Gordon Matta-Clark, Untitled (Cut Drawing), 1976-77, Pencil on layers of cut paper, Purchase through the Vincent D’Aquila and Harry Soviak Bequest Fund, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, and Purchase Fund, © 2008 Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

László Moholy-Nagy, Z II, 1925, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.


Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York
Yoshiko and Akio Morita Media Gallery,
second floor
Geometry of Motion 1920s/1970s
March 19-June 23, 2008

Geometry of Motion 1920s/1970s, takes cinematic experience as its point of departure, using 14 works that trace the transformation of the art object from static image to fluid light projection within two artistic lineages: the unconventional optical techniques of the 1920s Neue Optik, or “New Vision,” generation of artists — El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Hans Richter, and Marcel Duchamp; and the situational aesthetics advanced by Robert Irwin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Smithson, and Anthony McCall in the 1970s. All the artists explored perceptual propositions for geometry of motion, conveying indelible filmic events. The phrase “geometry of motion” derives from the literal meaning of the word cinématique. The exhibition is organized by Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator.

Geometry of Motion 1920s/1970s brings together light — and movement — capturing experiments that draw attention to conditions and complexities of perception, in the framework of institutional display and in outside surroundings. It complements the survey exhibition Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, which opens on April 20, 2008, at MoMA, offering context to Eliasson’s protocinematic experiments with mechanisms of motion, projection, shadow, and reflection.

From 1919 to 1923, Lissitzky developed his Prouns, paintings and works on paper of translucent and opaque abstract planes, some intended to be rotated or hung in any direction, which evolved into fully three-dimensional installations. A few years later, Moholy-Nagy conceived Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light-Space Modulator), a mobile light mechanism that materialized its creator’s goal of “painting with light” into space. Also in the 1920s, Richter translated geometrical shapes into pure cinematic sensation. His pioneering abstract films, exemplified by the four-minute film Filmstudie (1926), codified a visual syntax based on rhythmical patterns of light and motion. Richter’s interest in experimental cinema related to Duchamp’s abstract optical tests with rotary discs and afterimages that in 1926 resulted in Anémic Cinema, a film alternating shots of rotating spirals with discs inscribed with erotic puns.

In the 1970s, a new generation of artists built on earlier artistic experiments with light to tap into sensory perception. This is the case with Matta-Clark’s anarchitectural projects that carved unexpected, vertiginous apertures of light into abandoned buildings, and with Irwin’s light installations that heightened spatial perception. Smithson explored the experience of art as itinerant and filmic in Spiral Jetty, orchestrated in 1970 at Great Salt Lake in Utah. The exhibition includes Smithson’s film of the completed sculpture taken from a helicopter, capturing the moment when the sun’s reflection hit the water at the center of the spiral. Looking into the sun is like turning away from the screen in a movie theater to look into the film projector’s beam. McCall draws on this accidental occurrence, fusing the properties of film and sculpture in his slide projection Miniature in Black and White (1972), a precursor of his solid light films.

Anthony McCall, Miniature in Black and White, 1972, 35mm slide installation: 81 35mm slides (black and white), carousel slide projector, and miniature plexiglass screen, Continuous loop, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art and Committee on Media Funds.


László Moholy-Nagy, Yellow Circle, 1921, Oil on canvas, Gift of The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation, © 2008Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.