Neelon Crawford

The Geometry of Abstraction

Feb 18–20, 2022


Rays. 1969. USA. Directed by Neelon Crawford. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • MoMA, Floor T2/T1 The Debra and Leon Black Family Film Center

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Multimedia artist Neelon Crawford (American, b. 1946) was a member of the experimental filmmaking scenes in Ohio, San Francisco, and New York from the late 1960s through the early ’80s. Describing his work at the time as “experiments in the geometry of abstraction made possible by the movie camera,” Crawford uses 16mm films to reflect his interests in light, landscape, and movement. His work was twice presented in the Museum’s prestigious Cineprobe series in the 1970s, before he retired from film and withdrew his work from circulation to pursue a successful career as a photographer and painter (like his father, Ralston Crawford). MoMA acquired his complete collection of original elements and viewing prints in 2016.

Following a June 2021 run on MoMA’s Virtual Cinema platform, and in conjunction with Crawford’s current gallery exhibition, this theatrical screening marks the first time his complete films have been shown in MoMA’s theaters since his 1970s Cineprobe programs, introducing him to a new generation of viewers and restoring his work to the American avant-garde cinema canon.


These films were made over 15 years, starting in the mid-1960s, with a 16mm Bolex movie camera providing me an unbounded challenge of how the projection of 1,440 images a minute might be organized. The illusions possible with cinema are all about time and juxtaposition. The edit from one image to another modifies the function of both images into a composite result. Exploring the cinematic potential with more emphasis upon constructing projected moving paintings than on making recordings of dramatic or documentary content was, and remains, of primary interest to me.

Making pictures is visual thinking absent any required explanation with words. In 2022, many of us have photographic, video, and audio recording resources in our pockets able to distribute what we see, what we are interested in, to millions of people globally at the speed of light. The stunning technical evolution from a handheld 16mm Bolex camera to a contemporary cell phone still leaves us with the choice of what to capture and pass on to others.

The context, sequence, timing, emphasis, and presentation of images may impact our feelings and assumptions. At times it may be possible to find the richest pleasures in work done by others, and at other times our own visual explorations may yield personally satisfying results. Either situation may become a catalyst to invigorate our next endeavor. If something in these films of mine from years ago stimulates you to explore images with a digital device, perhaps stretching its technical abilities beyond expectations, that would be a welcome outcome. The stimulation of fresh visual discoveries, wherever they may be found, is a valuable source of alternative ideas and perspectives.” –Neelon Crawford, February 2022

All film descriptions were written by Neelon Crawford.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, and Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film.

Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.


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