A giant of experimental cinema, Jacobs will celebrate his 90th birthday during ‘Up the Illusion,’ an innovative survey of his career from the 1950s through today.

 Ken Jacobs appears with arms crossed, listening carefully, at a street march in 2004.
Ken Jacobs pictured at a street march in 2004 in New York. (Photo by John Matturri)

NYU Steinhardt’s 80WSE Gallery presents Ken Jacobs: Up The Illusion, a career retrospective of the moving image artist commissioned by gallery director Howie Chen and curated by artist and writer Andrew Lampert. The seven-month exhibition opens April 15 at the Broadway Windows gallery, a series of five street-level display windows at the corner of Broadway and E. 10th Street in New York City. 

Up The Illusion features dozens of works representing nearly 70 years of Jacobs' pioneering and influential art, including films, digital videos, and for the first time in public, a selection of his drawings. Video works displayed in each window will change over the course of the exhibition, tracking Jacobs’ career. They will be shown simultaneously and around the clock in a display that reflects Jacobs’ experimental spirit. 

“We want to rethink what a survey of a media artist can be. This is public, streetside and durational, unfolding over seven months,” Chen said. “The whole corner is going to be buzzing with monitors, screens and images.”

Added Lampert, “Having everything running simultaneously over the course of many months means that no one has to absorb it all at once. The exhibit will enliven the street and offer locals and visitors the chance to view, re-view and live with the work in their periphery for a substantial period of time.”

Born in Brooklyn, Jacobs started making films in 1955 and became a central figure of the New York City underground film and art scene that exploded in the 1960s. Jacobs’ decades of restless output includes more than 40 motion pictures and dozens of live performance pieces made with both his self-invented double 16mm “Nervous System” projection apparatus and his almost intergalactic “Nervous Magic Lantern.” He co-founded the film program at SUNY Binghamton, where he taught for decades, and he has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations. He continues to work, often in collaboration with his wife, Florence, in his Manhattan studio.

“Ken is one the most significant creative artists of his generation, particularly when it comes to moving-image makers. Those of us who already know Ken's work are bowled over by his constant invention, all encompassing vision, and the wild variety of his output,” Lampert said. “A show in the Broadway Windows is the best way to celebrate him and share this uncompromising, ever expanding vision with new audiences.”

The exhibition will represent the broad range of his artistry, including his pioneering work with found footage, home movies, street photography, and abstraction in all its possible forms. It traces the influence of studies with painter Hans Hofmann in the 1950 through the technological evolution of his work. The exhibit will feature QR codes that provide access to individual works, and many will be available on the gallery’s website.

“Ken has made hundreds of films and videos, so trying to select a handful of works to represent his career is impossible,” Lampert said. “I've decided to rotate pieces in and out of the exhibit, each iteration lasting for a couple of months. This allows us to present more work, but it also helps to make the show feel like a living entity.”

Images and interviews with Ken Jacobs, Andrew Lampert, and Howie Chen available upon request.

About 80WSE
Founded in 1974, NYU Steinhardt’s 80 Washington Square East Gallery is a not-for-profit gallery presenting contemporary and historical exhibitions. Recent shows include Introverse: Allegory Today and student exhibitions. The main gallery is open Wednesday-Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Its two other locations, Broadway Windows at E. 10th Street and Broadway, and Washington Square Windows, next to the gallery, are on view 24/7.  For more information, please visit the gallery website


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