In 1966, Stan VanDerBeek (1927–1984) presciently wrote: “It is imperative that we quickly find some way for the entire level of world human understanding to rise to a new human scale. This scale is the world.” Four years later, from his studio at MIT, he faxed a wall mural of ghostly handprints and advertising snippets to venues all over the world—a brash precursor of the PDFs zipping around today’s Internet. This computer-graphics pioneer could paint with the verve of Max Ernst—check out the surreal ’50s landscapes topped by black suns in the rear gallery—and draw with the passionate clarity of Ben Shahn, as in a bold ink sketch of three gesturing hands. Allying a gift for collage with insightful absurdity, VanDerBeek’s animated films, some of which are projected simultaneously in the gallery, are by turns charming and startling: The silverware in Dance of the Looney Spoons (1965) gambols to a percussion soundtrack, fork tines twisted like Hell’s own bad-hair day; similar abstract squiggles explode from Nikita Khrushchev’s mouth in 1960’s Achooo Mr. Kerrooschev. Such mordant burlesques prefigured Monty Python’s spasmodic cartoons by years. In manifestos, films, and kinetic computer animation, VanDerBeek sought a universal means of communication, but he didn’t live to marvel at the Web’s promise of worldwide connectivity (or be disappointed by its blaring tribalism). His work’s invigorating clash of sounds and images reaches back to the bittersweet provocations of Dada and the Beats while keenly foreshadowing our own cacophonous age.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. Starts: Oct. 1. Continues through Oct. 18, 2008