Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art

by Andrew V. Uroskie.  University of Chicago Press, March 2014. 288 p. ill. ISBN 9780226842998 (pbk.), $30.00.

Reviewed July 2014
Rick Sieber, Librarian for Reader Services, Philadelphia Museum of Art, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Rejecting both the narrative emphasis of European art cinema and the formalism of contemporaneous experimental film, the “expanded cinema” of the 1960s combined various artistic practices to critique notions of exhibition and display in postwar art.  Variously incorporating aspects of sculpture, dance, music, theater, and photography along with cinematic novelties such as multiple screens and live video, expanded cinema emphasized the site of the cinematic event as a means of examining the nature of spectatorship and its institutions.  In Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art, Andrew V. Uroskie (associate professor, Stony Brook University) rigorously explores the development of this phenomenon – a precursor to much of today’s video and installation art.
While chronicling the work of several key figures of expanded cinema (Stan VanDerBeek, Robert Breer, Robert Whitman, Nam June Paik, Ken Dewey), Uroskie firmly situates their respective practices within the broader postwar art milieu.  Artists such as John Cage, Andy Warhol, Joseph Cornell, and Marcel Duchamp play equally substantive roles in the narrative, each contributing to the formation of a theoretical space between the “black box” of the theater and the “white cube” of the gallery, in which the key concerns of expanded cinema began to play out.  Throughout the text, Uroskie emphasizes the multifaceted and transformative nature of expanded cinema, arguing that more than simply an isolated corner of American underground film, expanded cinema is best understood as a leveraging of cinematic conventions in an effort to transform the institutions of all postwar art.

In addition to covering the key figures and events of expanded cinema, Between the Black Box and the White Cube broadly explores important antecedents of the loose movement, including the Lettrist films of Isou and Lemaître and the optical and philosophical toys of early cinema.  Uroskie also delves into significant postwar cultural developments that contributed to its evolution, such as the rise of television, the establishment of Lincoln Center, and the 1964 World’s Fair.  Sharp analyses of several key works of expanded cinema add critical heft to this broad history, the first book-length study of the movement and its origins.

Uroskie’s writing is academic and occasionally theoretical, but very clear and readable.  While the book lacks a standalone bibliography, its copious discursive endnotes provide additional context and avenues for further research.  It also includes a thorough index and adequate illustrations in sharp black and white.  Between the Black Box and the White Cube makes a significant contribution to the fields of both film studies and contemporary art history, and as such, it is a highly recommended addition for all academic and research libraries with an emphasis on twentieth-century art or film.

© 2014 ARLIS/NA