Original animation drawing for Gertie the Dinosaur. USA. 1914. Directed by Winsor McCay. Courtesy John Canemaker

On Line: Drawing and Film, held in conjunction with the gallery exhibition On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, presents films from MoMA’s collection by artists whose work redefines the very parameters of drawing through an investigation of the line, both static and kinetic.

The intersection between the world and the line, both as a visual element and a rich metaphor for life, can be found in numerous films, from the dawn of cinema in the late 19th century to the present. Early animation—a film technique that springs directly from the medium of drawing—succeeded in the activation of the drawn line, as in Winsor McKay’s Gertie, the Dinosaur (1914). Despite subsequent technical advances, many artists have chosen to continue to reveal the connection between drawing and film; they paint, scratch, and manipulate the physical material of film to create abstract lines and patterns, which sometimes stand alone as moving drawings. In other films, these drawn lines are forced into the cinematic world created by the filmmaker, as an active backdrop for artistic intervention. Then there are films in which the line functions symbolically, referring to the various trajectories of the world at large through spiritual and physical travel, such as Bill Morrison’s Night Highway (1990). The passage of time, the marks left in our landscape, and lines drawn to both join and separate us from each other simultaneously provoke fascination and repulsion, as in A Season Outside (1998) by Amar Kanwar. The manipulation of line as cinematic subject was often inspired by the movement of the body, as in Circles I (1971)—a dance film by Doris Chase—and the syncopated, choreographed abstract imagery of Mary Ellen Bute’s Tarantella (1940). Contemporaneously, the transformation of the line (or a crossing of multiple lines to form a grid) injects the limits of the exterior world into the interior of the work of art. The first wave of computer generated films, especially those made at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, in the early 1960s—such as Computer Generated Ballet (c.1965) by researcher A. Michael Noll—explores the subject of “dancers” on a computer grid.

This exhibition includes films by Yann Beauvais (French, b. 1953), Stan Brakhage (American, 1933–2003), Robert Breer (American, b. 1926), Mary Ellen Bute (American, 1906–1983), Doris Chase (American, 1923–2008), Jim Capobianco (American, b. 1969), Walt Disney (American, 1901–1966), Ed Emshwiller (American, 1925–1990), valie export (Austrian, b. 1940), Harun Farocki (German, b. Czechoslovakia 1944), Emily Hubley (American, b. 1958), Amar Kanwar (Indian, b. 1964), Bernard Longpre (Canadian, 1937–2002), Len Lye (New Zealander, 1901–1980), Norman McLaren (Canadian, b. Scotland 1914–1987), Bill Morrison (American, b. 1965), David Piel (American, 1926–2004), Yvonne Rainer (American, b. 1934), Randy Rotheisler (Canadian, b. 1953), Carolee Schneemann (American, b. 1939), Zdenek Smetana (Czech, b. 1925), Stuart Sherman (American, 1945–2001), Alia Syed (British, b. 1964), and Steven Yazzie (American, b. 1970).

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film, and Esther Adler, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings.

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