The Susan and John Hess Family Theater on the third floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art looks like a set for the holodeck in Star Trek. The room is glossy black with a grid of luminous blue lines. It is sparsely furnished and meant only as a backdrop for the film works shown there. It’s certainly an appropriate setting for the film series portion of Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016. It calls to mind immersion so full-bodied that safety protocols are needed.
Dreamlands as an installation is massive in both size and focus. The exhibits fill the 18,000 square feet of the Niel Bluhm Galleries, and scan across over a century in the evolution of American film and its influences.
Titled after a fictional place in H.P. Lovecraft’s fantasy works (a dimension only reached in dreams) the exhibition as a whole is obsessed with the experiments that led to new evolutions in film-making. Here are the semi-failed forays into 3D from the 1960s and ’70s, and their full realization in the early 2000s. There is Smell-O-Vision in the film “Easternsport” by Jayson Musson and Alex Da Corte. Cinerama, the art of projection onto multiple screens or a shaped screen, is featured. It’s a film buff’s dream come true.
Reviewers have critiqued the exhibition as focusing too much on the modern era in film, not giving the art form’s history its proper due, but it is speaking to a modern audience, not a scholastic one. And film is not alone in the exhibits. Many art installations space out the video offerings, punctuating them with light and texture and experiences. For example, in Jud Yalkut’s “Destruct Film,” one walks through discarded celluloid in drifts on the floor like fallen leaves. Film’s two senses are expanded to four out of five.
Dreamlands will run until February 5th. Admission is $22 for adults and $17 for students and seniors.