October 20, 2004—The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., announced today the joint acquisition of the work Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine), 1991–92, one of the first examples of sculptural video by media artist Gary Hill. The piece, a video installation comprising thirty monitors set into an aluminum I-beam, is the artist’s proof for an edition of two, and the only example in North America. The work will be on view at SFMOMA from March 25 to May 30, 2005, in an exhibition featuring pieces by Hill sourced from Bay Area collections.
Both institutions have a long standing relationship with Hill’s work. At SFMOMA, Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) joins three single-channel video works by Hill—Primarily Speaking, 1983, Site Recite, 1989, and Incidence of Catastrophe, 1987–88—already in the Museum’s collection. In 2000, SFMOMA also presented the work Remembering Paralinguay (with Paulina Wallenberg-Olsson), 2000, in the exhibition Double Feature: New Works by Nick Crowe and Gary Hill.
“Gary Hill is a significant figure in the advancement of media art, and Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) is a particularly compelling example of his work in that it aggregates several of his trademark themes and techniques,” said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. “We are honored to join the Hirshhorn in this significant acquisition.”
In 1994 the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden presented the important exhibition Gary Hill, organized by the Henry Art Gallery, which featured nine special installations. “The acquisition of Gary Hill’s Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) with SFMOMA adds an important work of media-based art by one of the most significant artists practicing in this genre to the Hirshhorn’s outstanding collection of contemporary art. While photography, film and video have not been a part of the Hirshhorn’s efforts in the past, we are now committed to ameliorating our gaps in this crucial area of late twentieth century and early twenty-first century art. We are delighted to partner with SFMOMA, a museum that shares the Hirshhorn’s commitment to collecting, studying, and conserving these dynamic art forms,” added Ned Rifkin, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Over the past 25 years, Hill has developed a dynamic body of work that reveals influences of both classical art and mass media, incorporating such varied elements as performance, sculpture, and video to explore the concepts of illusion and mediated reality, often via a focus on the human body. In many of his pieces, Hill engages in a complex—sometimes literal—deconstruction of the frame, restaging a video image within sculptural objects.
Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) exemplifies all of these characteristics. The thirty black-and-white monitors, most often used in surveillance applications, have been stripped of their outer casings; the remaining portions, called rasters, sit side-by-side in the I-beam. Across their screens, images of two young, slender nudes (a man and a woman) move toward each other with a rapid, flickering motion—each image lingers for only one second—even as the camera moves across their bodies in an intimate survey of their surfaces. The presentation distorts the bodies: sometimes they stretch across several monitors, other times one appears to fold back onto itself.
The effects are illusions the artist has created for his audience. Hill’s original footage is a succession of panned shots of the models’ bodies; in normal playback, only one segment of the body would appear on the monitor at any instant. But Hill shifts the playback time of discrete frames, then lines them up consecutively across the bank of rasters. A computer-controlled device creates a sense of movement by hurtling the images across the screens, sending a single frame of video to one monitor, then directing subsequent frames to the adjacent screens.
The thirty rasters inside the I-beam correspond to the thirty frames in one second of video played at standard speed; here, Hill gives time a spatial representation. The title of Hill’s illusion refers to a common ploy in cinema, television and theater, whereby audiences must use make-believe, or suspend their disbelief, to carry themselves from one sequence to another.
Hill has exhibited extensively at museums across the world, including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. A comprehensive retrospective of his work was organized in 2002 at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany.
The other editions of Suspension of Disbelief (for Marine) are in the collections of the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, and the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in France. SFMOMA’s acquisition was made possible through the Accessions Committee Fund and the Agnes E. Meyer & Elise Stern Haas Fund.