Anthony McCall, You and I Horizontal, 2006, © Anthony McCall, Installationsbild från Institut d’Art Contemporain, Villeurbanne, France (2006).
Anthony McCall, Doubling Back, 2003© Anthony McCall, Installationsbild, Whitneybiennalen 2004.
Anthony McCall, You and I, Horizontal III, 2007, Installation view at the Serpentine Gallery, London, 2007, Solid light installation, 32-minute cycle in two parts, Computer, QuickTime movie file, two video projectors, two haze machines Dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, © 2008 Anthony McCall, Photograph © Sylvain Deleu.
Anthony McCall, Between You and I, 2009, Installation St. Cornelius Chapel, Governor's Island, New York, Courtesy Creative Time.
Anthony McCall, Between You and I, 2006, Sixteenth Minute. Installation at Peer/The Round Chapel, London, 2006. Photo by Hugo Glendenning, © Anthony McCall 2006.
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Moderna Museet Now: Anthony McCall
October 10-December 6, 2009
By LARS NITTVE
Fascination, delight — and caution … The moods we experience are remarkably physical the first time we encounter Anthony McCall’s membranes of light that move osmotically between his strangely shifting spaces within the space. As soon as our eyes adjust to the dark, we experience something new: Solid Light — a material light, a sort of radiant, intricately folded membranes or walls that induce us to move cautiously and hesitantly.
The membrane-like walls of light emanate from one single projection point at the far end of the room; that is where our gaze first wants to go when we set out to navigate through the layers of light. But once we are enclosed in a three-dimensional radiating form and turn our gaze away from that fixed point, we soon discover that nothing is still. Everything is in motion. Not just me and the other visitors, moving like astral bodies through the stratums of light — but also the materialised light itself: on the wall we can see the white lines of a drawing slowly move, and in the process dragging along entire walls of light. Slowly, slowly, yet fast enough for us to perceive the movement.
What are seeing? What categories and concepts can we apply to handle this experience? An experience we have probably never had before… On a fundamental level, it is familiar to how a beam of the film projector cuts through darkness in the cinema. Or the second-hand experience of that, anyway, as it appears in photos or films from the past, when the cigarette smoke laid heavy in movie theatres … But it is also, despite ivague immateriality, related to the highly physical and filmic experience of moving through one of Richard Serra’s large sculptural works from the past 15 years — for instance, his Torqued Ellipses. But what we are seeing is also drawing — and isn’t there a strong sense of performance, with you, me' and other viewers as participants?
Ever since his early works dating from around 1970, Anthony McCall has created works that have been intensely sensual — made to experience — while imbued with an unmistakable philosophical dimension. Expressed in the rather hackneyed categories of isms, one could say that he has always operated in the field between minimalism and conceptual art.
Anthony McCall’s artistic career is, in many ways, fairly typical of artists in his generation — with one important exception. Born and educated in London, he graduated from art school, where he had focused on photography, in the midst of the student rebellions in 1968. He gradually moved from photography to performance and to what is sometimes called Structural Cinema, represented by film-makers such as Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton — the context in which McCall’s Solid Light works were made. He also gradually moved from London to New York, emigrating in 1973.
The first of his now legendary Solid Light films, Line Describing a Cone was actually first shown at Fylkingen in Stockholm on 30 August, 1973. During half an hour, a narrow ray of light was projected through the room by a 16 mm projector, slowly but steadily transforming into an arch, before finally cutting out a large cone of light in the dark room. This is basically the same experience we encounter today in McCall’s installations, although these old works were 16 mm animations. A few days after the Fylkingen show, McCall did a performance with fires, Fire Cycles II in a park in the centre of Stockholm (also organised by Fylkingens), and the following year, Malmö konsthall featured a group exhibition where all four films by McCall on the cone theme where shown, while Jean Sellem at Galleri St Petri in Lund showed Long Film for Ambient Light, a “film” without either film, camera, projectors or screen. The film was simply natural light that was filtered into the space. Light in space.
The fact is, that twenty-five years passed before the art world caught up with McCall’s works from the 1970s and started showing them in exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, the Whitney Museum and Tate Modern. And at the Whitney Biennial in 2004, Anthony McCall then took the audience by surprise with an entirely new work: Doubling Back. This work reverts to Line Describing a Cone dating thirty years back, but new technology enabled higher visuality and, above all, greater complexity, both in animation and projection and — now that the smoky and dusty lofts are definitely a thing of the past — the “fog” in the room required for the light to materialise. Doubling Back, which was recently acquired for the Moderna Museet collection, opens the second chapter in an oeuvre that has come to assume an absolutely central position in art at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
Beginning in the 1970s, Anthony McCall created art based on the beam of the film projector in the darkened cinema, working on the boundary between the most influential styles and genres in postwar art — minimalism, film, performance and drawing. In this exhibition, Moderna Museet presents two of his large light installations from the 2000s, along with numerous drawings.
"Anthony McCall was part of a circle that included many of the seminal artists of the 1960s — Richard Serra, Carolee Schneemann, Michael Snow and Joseph Kosuth, to name but a few — and addressed many of the issues they were dealing with, albeit in his own independent and idiosyncratic way. It is exciting now, to present this exhibition of McCall, following his wonderful comeback that started with the Whitney Biennial in 2004,” says Lars Nittve, Director of Moderna Museet and curator of Moderna Museet Now: Anthony McCall.
In 1973, Anthony McCall embarked on making the now legendary film series Solid Light. The first part, Line Describing a Cone, had its first screening at the experimental art space Fylkingen in Stockholm on 30 August the same year. During half an hour, a narrow ray of light was projected through the room by a 16 mm projector, first forming an arch and ultimately cutting out a large cone of light in the dark room.
This is basically the same sensual experience we may encounter today when we move in darkness through McCall’s luminous walls or membranes of light. But now they are sculpted using different technology, to achieve greater visuality and complexity, both in animation and projection. Suddenly it has become possible – now that smoky and dusty lofts are a thing of the past – to (re)create the filmic “fog” necessary for the light to materialise with the aid of a haze machine.
It was when Anthony McCall discovered this possibility that he decided to return to art, after a pause of nearly 25 years, making his acclaimed comeback at the Whitney Biennial in 2004 with an entirely new work, Doubling Back. This work, which was recently acquired for the Moderna Museet collection and is featured in the exhibition, initiated the second chapter in an oeuvre that has come to assume a central position in art at the end of the first decade of the 21st century.
Anthony McCall was born in 1946 in the UK, but moved to New York when he was in his 30s. Since resuming his artistic work, he has participated in a large number of international solo and group exhibitions, at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Serpentine Gallery, to name but a few.
At the finissage, the last weekend of the exhibition, 4-6 December, Line Describing a Cone, 1973, will be shown in the right-hand gallery on Floor 2.
Curators of the exhibition are Lars Nittve with Jo Widoff.