New York’s Noguchi Museum Spotlights Filmmaker Marie Menken
Despite the commonly-held belief that influential creatives achieve genius through isolated practice, the reality is that most do so through collaboration and mutual critique. No artist is an island. This is especially true for interdisciplinarians like Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). Foraying into almost every available medium, the era-defying polymath often worked with or alongside like-minded talents, pushing the boundaries of material and practice in equal measure. The groundbreaking concepts he put forward in terms of form, composition, and loosely defined function would have been nothing without the feedback or interpretation of his contemporaries. Leading experimental filmmaker Marie Menken was one such force.
A new showcase at The Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York looks to highlight Menken’s filmic translation of the sculptor’s explorations but also, her ultimate contribution to his ever-evolving practice. On view from September 27 to February 4, 2024, “A Glorious Bewilderment: Marie Menken’s ‘Visual Variations on Noguchi” will center on the continuous screening of Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945–46/1953), her inaugural film. The showcase also marks the 100th anniversary of the invention of the 16mm format.
Examining Marie Menken’s Impact in the Art World
Going on to greatly influence the likes of Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger, the filmmaker’s quintessential handheld and ambulatory approach was first articulated in this historically-significant project. In the impactful—albeit short—film, she sought to capture the mobility, shape, and viscerality of Noguchi’s seminal artworks, some of which will be on view as accompanying material within the exhibit, presented on the museum’s second floor.
Using a hand-cranked Bolex camera, Menken moved rapidly in and around these format-defying pieces—Remembrance (1943), E=MC2 (1945), among others—emulating Noguchi’s own belief that “sculptures move because we move.” The film is an emphatically personal yet honest portrait of these works and perhaps even an intimate look inside his venerated practice. This depiction would expose Noguchi to aspects of his output he might not have been aware of without the critical distance afforded by this lens. Noted composer Lucia Dlugoszewski created a score that was added to the film in 1953, which mirrors the captivating messiness, sporadic motion, and rhapsodic expression communicated in this unique portrayal.
“It is our pleasure to screen Menken’s film at [our institution] for the very first time and to illuminate the unexplored cross-connections between Menken, Noguchi, and Dlugoszewski,” says Kate Wiener, Noguchi Museum curator. It’s almost as if the film is making a long overdue homecoming. “While working in different mediums, all three artists sought poetry and revelation in fracture–and inspired us to salvage meaning from disorder. Menken’s daring 4-minute film is a document of this shared ambition, and an extraordinary cinematic experience in its own right.”
A Glimpse at The Noguchi Museum Showcase Ongoing Through February, 2024
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