Art

The Science and Pleasures of How We See

In looking through 3D vision, we are able to turn flat surfaces into the way we daily see the world, and there is a kind a miracle, so it appears, in that very act.

Marcel Duchamp, “Rotoreliefs” (1935/1965), mixed media, diameters: 9 3/4 in., Los Angeles County Museum of Art (gift of the Grinstein Family, © Estate of Marcel Duchamp/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA)

LOS ANGELES — The amazing discovery of our binocular vision, that our brains synthesize the information received by our two eyes into a single image of volume, is celebrated in the wonderful and educational new show 3D: Double Vision at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), curated by Britt Salvesen, the museum’s Curator and Department Head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints and Drawings Department.

This interactive show, providing the viewers everything from the standard red and blue 3D glasses, polarized glasses, stereoscopes, View-Masters, and Autostereoscopic images, features not only dozens of early stereoscopic pictures, movies, and holograms, but visual artworks that require simple movement to perceive them, or often demand that we engage with them, through movement, to comprehend their dimensions.

Installation view, 3D: Double Vision at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (photo © Museum Associates/LACMA)

It’s almost overwhelming to attempt to describe the over 60 artworks covering a period of 175 years that make up this show. And everyone will find his or her personal favorites. Mine included Marcel Duchamp’s “Rotoreliefs” from 1935/1965, with their spinning, vertiginous-inducing visions (similar to what Alfred Hitchcock would later use in his film, Vertigo), Simone Forti’s “Striding Crawling,” a Multiplex Hologram image from 1975–78, with its curling and twirling figure, Pierre Adolph Hennetier’s “Les Diableries: Enfer” from 1860, and the dancing wallpaper of Peggy Weil, “3D Wallpaper” from 1976/2018.

Pierre Adolphe Hennetier, Adolphe Block (publisher), Les Diableries: Enfer (Hell) (published 1860, collection of Dr. Brian May, photo courtesy collection Dr. Brian May, digitized by Denis Pellerin)

And, of course, I loved several of the wonderful film clips on view, particularly Jean-Luc Godard’s revolutionary Goodbye to Language, wherein he not only demonstrates 3D images, but breaks them down so that we actually experience the mind unmixing the images when he depicts a character perceived only by one eye, instead of both, challenging us to make sense of the slightly uncomfortable and sudden bifurcation.

Flight of the Butterflies, Mike Slee’s 2012 documentary, reveals monarchs flying en masse to their Mexican home, often flying entirely off the screen as they appear to alight on our shoulders. And, of course, there are many wonderful Hollywood favorites such as scenes from Coraline to Hugo. The half-hour of viewing is well worth it.

Thomas Ruff, “3D-ma.r.s.08” (2013), chromogenic print, 100 x 72 3/8 x 2 3/4 in. (© 2017 Thomas Ruff/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Germany, photo courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

The group I was with was delighted to find their childhood View-Master© toys. And all of us were stunned by the View-Master© stereo picture of the Apollo moon landing on July 20, 1969. The more time spent here, the more technological wonders you will discover. This is a show to which one must return to again and again; and since it runs to the end of March 2019, I surely intend to do precisely that.

Ultimately, one has to ask, why do two side-by-side flat images or simply images that appear to be flat so please us when they spring into spatial dimension, when colors or special glasses force us to recognize them with both of our eyes? And is the sudden recognition an illusion or a reality that we cannot perceive in our everyday lives? It is almost as if we become amazed by our cerebral powers, our natural desire to bring the seemingly flat into proper perspective. Our joy seems to be that, in looking through 3D vision, we are able to turn flat surfaces into the way we daily see the world, and there is a kind a miracle, so it appears, in that very act.

Perhaps as curator Britt Salvesen hinted in her introductory comments to the reviewers, there is also something not only natural in that act, but almost political. In order to make sense of reality we must use both our eyes, to see things from more than one perspective, to comprehend life through more than one vision.

Combining technology with serious art, pleasurable entertainment with scientific exploration, the “double vision” of this show’s title draws us into a space that is almost difficult to extract oneself from. The various glasses that now sit upon my desk have no value in real life, yet I cannot imagine throwing them away, as if I want to enter that magical world — which strangely we experience every day in our lives — once more. In a sense, it is as if in viewing 3D images, we come closer to the way we naturally see the world — or, at least, should naturally see it.

Ken Jacobs, “The Surging Sea of Humanity” (2006), single channel video, dimensions variable, duration: 10:40 (courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York, © Ken Jacobs)

3D: Double Vision continues at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles) through March 31, 2019. 

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