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As usual, Oscar night was full of pleasant surprises and disappointments. Some of my favorite nominees were awarded, along with others whom I didn’t care for at all. One thing that unfortunately dominated the Oscars for almost four hours was the overwhelming and rather cheesy stage design, with millions of Swarovski crystals.

Video still from the 2018 Academy Awards. Photo credit: Oscars.

It made me think about a gigantic version of the crown from the Miss Universe pageant, or the shiny entrance to a shopping mall built for billionaires. I felt sorry for all the presenters and winners who were swallowed by all the vulgar glitter. There is a long list of prominent contemporary artists whose talent and imagination could and should be used for future Academy Awards set design.

Olafur Eliasson’s Reality projector in Marciano Art Foundation’s Theater Gallery. Photo by Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

Right now, here in Los Angeles, the work of some of these artists can be experienced in museum exhibitions. Let’s start with the recently unveiled installation at the Marciano Art Foundation, by the world-famous Danish conceptual artist Olafur Eliasson. He turned a huge, dark, empty space – a former theatre in a Masonic temple – into a dark screen for colorful, dramatic projections of geometric color forms, slowly moving and interacting with each other. My impression was that Olafur Eliasson created a stage to see and marvel at the shadows of mysterious Gods passing by above us.

Barbara Kruger, The Globe Shrinks, 2010. 4-screen video installation. Variable dimensions. 13 min loop. Installation view: Barbara Kruger, Sprueth Magers Berlin, September 03–October 23, 2010.  © Barbara Kruger, Courtesy of Sprüth Magers. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchase. Equipment gifted by L&M Arts LA. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

Several weeks ago, Hammer Museum opened the exhibition Unspeakable, presenting video installations by three major American artists – Barbara Kruger, Kara Walker, and Charles Atlas. If you allow yourself to stand still in a dark gallery presenting Barbara Kruger’s installation The Globe Shrinks, you will see videos of text and scenes of kindness and brutality appear on all four walls, changing and disappearing every few seconds. I stayed in the gallery for the full duration of her installation – 13 minutes – and it was not enough for me. I wanted to see it again...

Kara Walker, Still from ...calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported, 2007. Video installation, color, sound, 11 min. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Joint purchase with the Hammer Museum, with funds from the Film, Video, and New Media Committee. © 2005 Kara Walker. Photograph courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co, N.Y.

In her video installation ... calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea, Kara Walker, using her signature flat silhouette hand puppets, addresses the issues of “race, humanity, and deep wounds of slavery” (Hammer). Her puppets move slowly to the sound of country music, against vividly colored backgrounds. We follow their stories, fused with elements of innocence and cruelty.

Charles Atlas, The Tyranny of Consciousness, 2017. Five-channel video installation, color, sound. Audio: Helm and Lady Bunny. 23:44 min. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Purchased with funds provided by Robert Soros. © Charles Atlas; image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

And last, but not least, is a video installation by Charles Atlas, called The Tyranny of Consciousness, consisting of numerous scenes of sunsets, and the voice and images of legendary drag queen Lady Bunny, famous for her enormous blonde wig and larger than life personality. She sings a disco song and rants about life, peace, and greed, while a huge digital clock on the opposing screen counts down to zero.

{line break] Just imagine if any of these three artists, with their bigger than life imagination, would be asked to design the set for the Oscars. Hey, Academy members, are you listening?


Edward Goldman

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