Charles Atlas. Painting by Numbers. 2011. Three-channel video (black and white, silent), 8:21 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Catherine Badomi Heckett. © 2017 Charles Atlas. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York. Installation view, Charles Atlas: The Illusion of Democracy, Luhring Augustine Bushwick, New York, 2012

Throughout his 40-year career, the groundbreaking filmmaker and video artist Charles Atlas (American, born 1949) has collaborated with key figures from a range of creative disciplines, expanding the relationships between visual art, dance, music, theater, and television. In the late 1970s, together with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, Atlas pioneered “media-dance,” in which dance works were created and performed specifically for the camera. Atlas’s experimental narrative works from the 1980s integrate fiction and documentary with vibrant, stylized portraits of urban subcultures.

With his trilogy The Illusion of Democracy (2008–12), Atlas has abandoned the presence of human bodies in favor of numerical figures, animating a constantly expanding and contracting universe based on six digits. Casting 1 through 6 as the protagonists of these intricately choreographed video installations, Atlas pushes the limits of their "numberness" and evokes the pervasiveness of mathematical algorithms in our increasingly technologized society. In Plato’s Alley (2008), pulsing vertical and horizontal white lines take shape as a grid populated by the ensemble, and in Painting by Numbers (2011), a sea of digits swells and subsides over six acts that culminate in a climactic finale. In 143652 (2012), bars of color slowly yet relentlessly scan back and forth, at once erasing and transforming each figure. With its methodical abstraction and politically suggestive title, the trilogy is an introspective study in order and chaos.

Charles Atlas has collaborated on the design of the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, currently on view in the fourth-floor Collection Galleries.

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