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L'art du Mouvement 1919-1996, 1996.

Stan Vanderbeek Biography

Dr. William Moritz



Stan Vanderbeek (1927-1984) attended the experimental Black Mountain College (where such diverse people as Josef Albers, Aldous Huxley, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Buckminster Fuller taught and performed), and certainly learned there an adventurous attitude towards art and the expansion of art into new areas and technologies. His early films, from 1955 to 1965, mostly involved animating combinations of painting and collage work. He would cut pictures out of magazines and art books, often combining parts of one person with parts of another and grafting classic paintings onto latest news items, as in the famous image from the 1958 Science Friction in which a renaissance Madonna's altarpiece blasts off like a rocketship from the New York skyline. Vanderbeek's ironic juxtapositions are certainly in the Dada/Surreal spirit of Max Ernst's collages, but with a wild, rough informality more akin to the Expressionism of the Beat Generation. In some films, such as Mankinda (1957), he painted, making single frames as he added brush strokes, including calligraphy of a poem. The masterpiece of this early period is the 15-minute Breathdeath (1964), a hectic anti-war collage, which contains animation superimposed over live-action footage, time-painting over the collage work, and footage filmed from television; the montage indicts not only politicians (Krushchov sneezes, Hitler says "Gesundheit"; Nixon's foot falls out of his mouth) but also the media, in which the Mona Lisa and Marilyn Monroe are so easily confused.

Vanderbeek had made documentations of many happenings and performance pieces by Claes Oldenburg and Allen Kaprow in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1965 he began collaborating with various modern dancers, including Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer, making filmed backgrounds and devising small portable screens to be carried by dancers. He also created multiple-projector shows for the Movie-Drome dome theater he constructed at his home in Stony Point, New York. He also performed these "Movie-Murals" and "Newsreels of Dreams" in conventional theaters, using two projectors on the normal screen, and five additional projectors carried around the room by hand, moving across the walls, ceiling and audience. He hoped these "Cultural Intercom" performances would communicate universal concepts that could speak to average poeple in all countries of the world, and believed that sattelite television would make simultaneous world-wide linkage possible. His 1965 video collage Panels For the Walls of the World No. 1 also aimed at this universal communication.

His utopian yearning in 1966 led him to work with Ken Knowlton at Bell Telephone Laboratories, creating a dozen computer animation films, and experiments with holograms, always hoping to come closer to the working of the human nervous system through more complex technology. The first of these computer graphics are technically rather primitive -- dot patterns rearrange themselves to spell out words -- but Vanderbeek's wit and romantic love of humanity shines out of his texts: "Gestures mistake place. Finger-pointing takes a word to complete. Somehow words fill the space between things better. Love's finger directs the speech that Silence, falling, touches."

Vanderbeek's films are never polished, but their intentional roughness assures the viewer that this is not the work of an "artist-priest" with all the answers, but rather a common human speaking to other common humans. While many of the particular references in the collaged imagery may now seem obscure, Vanderbeek's exuberant montage convinces.



Moritz, William. "Stan Vanderbeek." L'art du Mouvement 1919-1996. Ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours, Cinéma du Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1996, 443.


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