Chuck Close (and more) at the Corcoran

Today (Sunday, July 18) is the last day of a wonderful convergence at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  Although you would most associate the museum with "static" art, for the past few months it has been featuring two exhibitions that are in some sense bookends to the breadth of cinematic history (and today is your last chance to see them).  The exhibition "Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change" profiles this important photographic artist whose work never quite reached the official start point of cinema technology.  But I think it's a winning argument to say that he was the true inventor of motion picture science (framed by a lecture I attended last Wednesday):  after all, Edison (who wears the crown) was somewhat of a corporate egotist who packaged it all together; and similarly, the Lumière brothers contributed portability and access to the science (rather like the Sony of their day).  It was Muybridge who first captured moving images onto photographic film, against a long outdoor wall with regular electrical trips that would trigger camera shutters as animals et al. ran past.

Animated sequence of a horse galloping. Photos...
He was also in some sense the kindred spirit via photography to naturalist John Muir, as they both explored and documented the majestic landscapes of California, including the mammoth sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove.  (To discover this today was especially meaningful to me, on the heels of my trip just last week to Sequoia National Park making a moving picture of my own.)  He photographed these landscapes and trees onto large plates that required virtuosity in process, needing to guess exposure times and process the film on-site almost immediately (foreshadowing the ongoing exhibition of Chuck Close, which is all about process...).

But it gets odder from there.  He was a peculiar man, and around every corner in the gallery you get newer, weirder factoids on the guy.  He shot and killed a man he suspected to be cheating with his wife.  Surprisingly (though maybe not for their time) exonerated, he went on in his senior years to photograph his saggy self nude, in numerous sequences of progressing frames.

All of this staged an interesting contrast with the contemporary work of another artist whose commissioned film is showing through today in the Corcoran rotunda.  American Falls by Phil Solomon is a video artwork projected onto three consecutive screens (mirrored for three more) that makes use of damaged film stock for visual effect.  In fact, it's rather (suspiciously?) similar to an earlier film by filmmaker Bill Morrison called Decasia, which also made use of mostly decayed old film stock including, as it turns out, Muybridge footage.  (Though Solomon's musical score is mostly ambient, Decasia commissioned the aggressive, through-composed minimalism of the great Michael Gordon, who in turn collaborated for subsequent screenings of Decasia with R. Luke DuBois, the subject of my new documentary screened on Friday.)  It is a fascinating art form that takes a while to soak into; the intense flickering and abstractions are a strain on the eyes, but you do - or I should say, can - receive a sort of melancholy from the barely recognizable images, which are deliberately iconic and American, as they progress (surely as Muybridge's sequences) into failing memory and entropy.

So, all of that is to describe what closes today; but you also have until September 12 to see "Chuck Close Prints:  Process and Collaboration."  And yes, it's all about process.  Walking through the generously dedicated gallery spaces, you will certainly see every bit of his staff's process on all dozen or so of his subjects - Close is known for coming back, over and over, to certain photographic portraits, and the one that first won me over (and now hangs on my wall, though I can only afford a reproduction!) is his mad-scientist shot of composer Philip Glass, as seen in my snapshot above of four consecutives, each using a different - you guessed it - process.

For the Chuck Close exhibition and for the rest of the Corcoran's galleries, admission is free on Saturdays through Labor Day.  UPDATE:  A documentary about the artist will screen at the Corcoran on Wednesday, July 21 at 7:00 p.m.