DREAM DANCE: THE FILMS OF ED EMSHWILLER is the first major overview of the artist’s groundbreaking work in film and video. With an immensely diverse body of creative work, Ed Emshwiller (1925-90) is perhaps one of the most significant yet under-recognized artists of the latter half of the 20th century. Emshwiller’s career spanned abstract expressionist painting, commercial illustration, film, video, and computer art, and collaborations with dancers, choreographers, and composers.
Emswhiller studied painting and graphics at the University of Michigan and attended l’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before landing in New York City in the early 1950s with his wife Carol. His arrival in New York coincided with the blossoming film-society culture established by figures such as Amos Vogel and Jonas Mekas, both emigrés from war-torn Europe. As a member of Vogel’s Cinema 16, Emshwiller was exposed to a community of like-minded cineastes and a wide range of celluloid discoveries, eventually inspiring him to craft his own short experimental films, even as he supported himself partly through the creation of cover art and illustrations for numerous science-fiction paperbacks and magazines (which he signed “EMSH”). Always attuned to new technological developments and artistic tools, he later embraced video and computer art, and eventually relocated to California to become the Dean of the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of Arts from 1979-90. Emshwiller’s journey into filmmaking combines a multitude of paths ranging from a continuation of his formal experiments with bodies in motion to forays into more conventional documentary cinema.
Traveling to Anthology from the Lightbox Film Center in Philadelphia (where it was presented in conjunction with an exhibition of Emshwiller’s paintings, notes, sketches, ephemera, and science-fiction cover paintings), DREAM DANCE has been organized by Jesse Pires, Lightbox’s Chief Curator. The film series includes brand-new preservations of three of Emshwiller’s earliest films, PAINTINGS BY ED EMSHWILLER (1955-58), DANCE CHROMATIC (1959), and LIFELINES (1960) – the result of a collaboration between Anthology and Lightbox Film Center – as well as notable works by other filmmakers for which Emshwiller served as cinematographer.