Charles Atlas, Hail the New Puritan (still), 1986. 16mm film transferred to video (color, sound; 84:54 minutes). Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. © Charles Atlas
Charles Atlas is the first U.S. museum survey of the pioneering interdisciplinary artist Charles Atlas (b. 1949 in St. Louis). Spanning 50 years of work, this experimental retrospective is conceived as an immersive environment for the visitor, featuring several monumental multi-channel video installations, or “walk-through experiences,” as the artist describes them. To create these installations, Atlas “explodes” single-channel videos into new configurations, presenting the videos on multiple suspended screens and monitors around the gallery, so visitors can move between and among them. The installations are complemented by objects in costume design, lighting, and décor, as well as related materials from the artist’s many collaborators.
Atlas’s early career is defined by his time as filmmaker-in-residence at the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York. Atlas and Cunningham created the genre of “media-dance”: dance made for the camera, rather than an in-person audience, wherein the camera moves seamlessly in concert with the dancers. Since leaving the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1983, Atlas has been a leading figure in film and video art, and one of the preeminent artists to capture dance and performance for the camera through groundbreaking collaborations with Michael Clark, Yvonne Rainer, Leigh Bowery, Marina Abramović, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener, and many others. Much of Atlas’s genre-defying, collaborative work has proved prescient for a generation of artists working today. Contemporary concerns such as the creative possibilities of performance and portraiture on camera and the political urgency of challenging conventions of gender, sexuality, and queer identity have been at the heart of Atlas’s creative output for decades.
Charles Atlas is oriented around the artist’s groundbreaking work at the intersections of moving image, dance, and performance, and his intimate video portraits of close collaborators and friends. The shifting political and cultural landscape of the United States from the 1970s to the present acts as a backdrop to this dynamic visual exhibition, addressing themes of performance and portraiture, gender and sexuality, and collaboration and friendship.