Space Light Art – A Film Environment
Through October 28, 2012
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York, NY
This summer, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents an exhibition of Raumlichtkunst (Space Light Art), a triple screen film environment by Oskar Fischinger. Debuted in Germany in 1926, Raumlichtkunst was radical in format, creating, in Fischinger’s words, “an intoxication by light from a thousand sources.” Fischinger (1900–1967) worked in animation, filmmaking, and painting. An influential pioneer of abstract cinema, he began his career in Weimar-era Germany. Working with multiple-projector formats in Munich, he redefined abstraction in the moving image with films that explore the interplay of abstract shapes, color, and light. Inspired by the German painter Walter Ruttman’s 1921 film experiments with “painting with time,” Fischinger, working with Hungarian composer Alexander László, first combined film and music with projections of abstract color in the mid-1920s, before moving on to present independent multiple screen film events.
The layers of geometric animations in Raumlichtkunst echo Fischinger’s earliest experiments with abstract forms, including spirals, staffs, moiré patterns, tinted liquids, and wax patterns. The triple screen format, the films’ unique combinations of abstract shape and hypnotic patterns, and the improvisational use of music were decades ahead of their time, establishing Fischinger as a key figure in the history of multiple projection environments. Raumlichtkunst was photochemically restored from original 35mm nitrate film material, then re-created in high-definition video by the Center for Visual Music. Using modern digital processes, the restoration makes visible once again the rich coloration of Fischinger’s originals from the 1920s.
During the period that Raumlichtkunst was conceived, Fischinger worked in Frankfurt, Munich, and then Berlin as a filmmaker, alternating between commercial work and his personal, experimental filmmaking. In Berlin, his technical prowess and special effects work garnered him the name “The Wizard of Friederichstrasse,” after the location of his studio. After the Nazi government declared all abstract films “degenerate,” Fischinger left Berlin for Hollywood, working first at Paramount and later at MGM and Disney, where he designed sequences for Fantasia. Feeling constrained by the demands of the Hollywood studios, he increasingly turned to oil painting. During his career he produced over eight hundred canvases and more than fifty films. Raumlichtkunst is currently also on display at Tate Modern in London. The presentations at the Whitney and the Tate are the first museum showings of this historic multiple projection film work.
The exhibition is curated by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator, with Cindy Keefer of the Center for Visual Music, and is on view from June 28 to October 28, 2012.
Center for Visual Music acknowledges film restoration support through the Avant-Garde Masters Program, funded by The Film Foundation, administered by The National Film Preservation Foundation.
Raumlichtkunst, installation view at the Whitney Museum of American Art. © Center for Visual Music.