Dreamlands: The Whitney’s First Cinematic Exhibition

We all have that song or album that transports us into some psychedelic state. It envelopes us, shows our minds something beautifully abstract, and evokes emotions impossible to grasp. The Whitney Museum of American Art’s most recent exhibition, “Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016,” is the embodiment of that dreamlike state in art and cinema.

This exhibition, running until February 5, is particularly important because it is the first cinematic exhibition at the Whitney’s new location between the Highline and the Hudson River and displays the true flexibility in exhibition creations of the Whitney. Covering more than a century of art and cinematic work in small rooms and upon walls, it displays the transformation and usage of light, color, and music through cinematic expression.

As the elevators open, the first thing you see a cluster of cushions situated in front of a floor to ceiling screen. On the screen is a film of wooden marionette dancers performing a rather abstract form of ballet. Their costumes are a crude joining of simple shapes. Some resemble clouds and fans, and all pop with pastel colors that call to mind the innocence of childhood. This nostalgia is only amplified by the twinkling melody, faintly similar to “The Nutcracker,” that accompanies the installation. The various shapes and colors echo the abstract yet simplistic nature of childhood in Oskar Schlemmer’s short film, “Das Triadische Ballet” (1970).

One of the exhibition’s more abstract works is “The Line Describing A Cone” (1973) by Anthony McCall, an installation not only abstract in concept, but also in composition. The installation is essentially a pitch black room with a projection of a tunnel of light, depicted on the opposite wall as a line. The room is filled with a vapor which not only allows for the projection to be seen, but imposes a disconcerting effect upon the visitor.

As you pass through the projection, you become encapsulated in the tunnel of light. Passing your hand through the edges of the tunnel refracts the light and creates small rainbows slipping off your fingertips. The installation creates a muted contrast between the darkness of the room and the brightness of the light, which instills the faded memory of the projector used to show movies in a dark classroom.

An example of a truly immersive cinematic installation would be “Easternsports” (2014) by Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson, located toward the back left of the exhibition. The installation is composed of four disjointed walls, each with neon lights creating a retro design and an ambiance of neon pinks, purples, and oranges, which add to the effect of the installation. Within the four walls are metal chairs, damaged oranges, and an argyle carpet.

The oranges are strewn haphazardly across the carpet, and the multi-colored chairs are simply a convenience for those who do not wish to sit on the carpet if they would like to view the film being played simultaneously on the insides of all four walls. The film is an artistic display with profound subtitles, which when combined with the funkadelic ambiance, makes for one of the most popular installations in the exhibition.

These, of course, are not the only prominent installations in the entire exhibition. There is also the iconic gridded room amongst many others. The exhibition as a whole allows you to leave with a satisfied feeling at the end of your visit, as all the different parts of the exhibition slowly come together as one larger motif.

With the many varied installations, 100 years of film are neatly wrapped up into a little package. From twinkling Christmas ballet-esque music to funkadelic neon-lit walls, Dreamlands is a new page and a new standard for exquisitely enigmatic art.

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