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Bard Professor of Film Peter Hutton Has Retrospective at MoMA, May 5–26

The 18-Film Exhibition, "Peter Hutton," Spans Four Decades of Work

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON—Peter Hutton, director of the Film and Electronic Arts Program at Bard College, where he has been a professor of film since 1984, will have a comprehensive retrospective of his work at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. Featuring Hutton’s luminous and meditative portraits of cities, waterways, and landscapes, the 18-film exhibition, Peter Hutton, will be presented May 5–26 at MoMA in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters and includes work created over the past four decades. On May 5, the filmmaker will discuss New York Portrait, Part I (1978–79) and Skagafjördur (2002–04) as part of a special Modern Mondays conversation with Luc Sante, author, critic, and Bard College visiting professor of writing and photography. Peter Hutton (American, b. 1944) studied painting, sculpture, and film at the San Francisco Art Institute under the tutelage of Robert Nelson, Bruce Nauman, and Bruce Conner. His students at Bard—and other institutions, including Hampshire College and Harvard University—have included Sadie Benning, Matthew Buckingham, Ken Burns, Hal Hartley, and Mira Nair. Also a former merchant seaman, Hutton has spent nearly 40 years voyaging around the world, often by cargo ship, to create meditative, luminously photographed, and intimately diaristic studies of place, from the Yangtze River to the Polish industrial city of Lódz, and from the fjord valley and coastline of northern Iceland to a ship graveyard on the Bangladeshi shore. Among the works featured in the exhibition are the two magisterial series that Hutton began in the 1970s—an impressionistic sketchbook of New York (New York Portrait, Parts I–III), and a series of explorations of the Hudson River and Valley that transcribe and exalt landscape in the manner of Thomas Cole and the 19-century Luminist painters. “Peter Hutton is one of cinema’s most ardent and poetic portraitists of city and landscape … This comprehensive retrospective reveals an artist dedicated to reawakening a more contemplative and spontaneous way of observing and envisioning the world,” says Joshua Siegel, assistant curator in the Department of Film at MoMA. SCREENING SCHEDULE PETER HUTTON May 5–26, 2008 The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at MoMA 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY Monday, May 5 7:00 p.m. Modern Mondays: Peter Hutton in Conversation with Luc Sante Program 100 min. To open his MoMA retrospective, Hutton presents New York Portrait, Part I (1978–79) and Skagafjördur (2002–04) as part of a special conversation with Luc Sante, visiting professor of writing and the history of photography at Bard College, and author of Low Life, The Factory of Facts, and Kill All Your Darlings. Wednesday, May 7 6:30 p.m. July ’71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon (1971) Program 60 min. A diary of free-spirited communal living (saunas, geodesic domes, bread baking, the defeathering of a duck), and a moment-by-moment observation of fleeting pleasures (a bicycle wheel plowing through rainwater, a woman holding yoga positions, a glider plane performing barrel rolls), filmed when Hutton was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. 35 min. New York, Near Sleep (for Saskia) (1972) This dream of New York, created in the spirit of filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu, is hushed and solitary in its pleasures, and sensitive to the effects of sunlight and moonlight on the city’s hard-edged geometries. Made while Hutton was shooting Red Grooms’s antic Hippodrome Hardware and living in the basement of the artist’s studio. 10 min. Florence (1975) Hutton made this black-and-white study of texture, light, and abstraction while teaching at Hampshire College and living in an abandoned factory in Florence, New York. 7 min. Boston Fire (1979) Recalling the paintings and watercolors of J. M. W. Turner, Hutton evokes elemental forces of fire, wind, and water during a city blaze. 8 min. Thursday, May 8 6:30 p.m. Images of Asian Music (1973–74) A contemplative, seemingly timeless record of the years Hutton spent in Southeast Asia while working as a merchant seaman. Jon Jost writes in American Film, “The film is rich with truly wonderful visions: a thick, white porcelain cup perched on a ship’s rail, the tea within swaying gently in sync with the ship while the sea rushes by beyond … the faces of crewmen posing awkwardly but also movingly for the camera; a cockfight on ship; scenes from a bucolic pre–Pol Pot Phnom Penh. Images has the haunting elegiac resonance of Eugène Atget’s Paris, the echo of a time and place that was.” 29 min. Two Rivers (2001–02) Commissioned by the arts organization Minetta Brook, Two Rivers was inspired by Henry Hudson’s failed 1609 quest to discover a trade route between North America and China. Hutton observes the bustling industry of the Hudson from atop a ship’s deck and through monocular portholes and hawsepipes before his panorama opens onto the quietude of the wooded palisades farther north. He then explores the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River as it unfolds like a Chinese scroll painting, bearing witness to a spectral, sulfurous landscape of factory villages that have since been flooded by China’s monumental hydroelectric dam project. 45 min. Friday, May 9 6:15 p.m. New York Portrait (Part I, 1978–79; Part II, 1980–81; Part III, 1990) Program 47 min. Hutton’s sketchbook of mid-1970s New York, edited in three parts over 12 years, is a chronicle of indelible impressions and an act of urban archeology. The artist evokes the city’s delicate rhythms, tonal contrasts, and shifts of scale—scrims of white mist and black smoke, of gauze, cloud, and fluttering pennant; the shadowy geometries of tenements and water towers; palimpsests of graffiti, skywriting, and painted signs; ecstatic sunlight glinting off the wings of homing pigeons as they traverse a pillowy sky; the slight rustle of a homeless man’s shirt; the flowery patterns of rainwater draining from a flooded street; a blimp’s lazy progress between two buildings whose balconies resemble film sprockets; and a winter fog rolling over the sandy rivulets of Coney Island, making of it a lunar park, removed from time. 7:30 p.m. Budapest Portrait (1984–86) The first artist from a non-socialist country to make a film under the auspices of Hungary’s Béla Balàzs Studio, Hutton photographed Budapest’s fading grandeur and present-day hardships under the wary gaze of government bureaucrats. “Budapest Portrait suggests the photographs alternately of Eugène Atget and Bernd and Hilla Becher, if not a lushly entropic gloss on Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera … Human presence is often suggested merely by indexical signs—photographs, shadows, or bullet holes. This relative absence of the figure, together with the harsh chiaroscuro of the winter light, induces a poignant sense of loneliness and isolation. Voluptuously gray, worn, and lived in, the city is like a stage set for an invisible drama.” (J. Hoberman, Artforum). 30 min. Lódz Symphony (1991–93) Images of a vanishing world—the 19-century manufacturing city of Lódz in Poland—are rendered with devotion by Hutton. As he wanders a ghostly city trammeled by history’s cruel progress, Hutton finds poetry in its empty cobblestone streets, its crumbling stone facades blackened with soot and atlantes heavy with burden, its cemetery overflowing with the toppled gravestones of Jews, and its dying traditions: the proud guild of chimney sweeps, recognizable by their shiny brass buttons; and the textile looms with their beautiful mechanized movements. 20 min. Saturday, May 10 3:00 p.m. Landscape (for Manon) (1986–87) Program 79 min. An ode to a dreaming child, Hutton’s daughter. Twenty-two shots, all but two separated by a momentary span of darkness, depicting Kaaterskilll Clove in the Hudson Valley, the region that Thomas Cole painted and called his home. 18 min. In Titan’s Goblet (1991) Taking its title from a surreal Hudson River landscape painting by Thomas Cole circa 1833, In Titan’s Goblet inscribes ever-so-subtle patterns and movements of sky, sun, moon, and fire. Day becomes night, and night day, as the dawn’s first light glimmers over a dark copse of trees, fleecy clouds pass like ice floes across the moon’s bright orb, and a bulldozer plows its way across an infernal valley of burning tires. 10 min. Study of a River (1994–96) A winter’s passage of ships up and down the Hudson, first viewed from the water and then from an iron-girder railroad bridge that spans the river in Poughkeepsie. 16 min. Time and Tide (1998–2000) Recalling John Ruskin’s observation of J. M. W. Turner—“he paints in color but thinks in light and shade”—Hutton for the first time adds a wintry palette of opalescent blue-grays, greens, and ochres to his black-and-white tonalities, enlivened by splashes of eye-catching red and turquoise from the hulls of tankers, tug-barges, and cargo ships ambling their way up and down the Hudson. The film opens at a quickened pace with Billy Bitzer’s 1903 time-lapse travelogue of maritime and manufacturing activity along the Hudson, then gives way to a meditation on the river’s slow, sure rhythms, brooding fog and sea smoke, and counterpoints of wilderness and corrosive industry, transience and endurance. 35 min. 6:00 p.m. Looking at the Sea (2000–01) A sketchbook of impossibly beautiful images drawn from the landscape and sea of Ireland’s wildly desolate west coast. Flat-edged trees are rendered with the classical serenity of a Claude Lorraine drawing, while the ensanguined sun becomes a baroque medley of oranges, reds, and midnight blues on the water’s glittering surface. Churning waves crash against massive rock outcroppings, and the silvery nighttime sky is abstracted in tidal pools like quick graphite strokes. 35 min. Skagafjördur (2002–04) With a quiet sense of drama, Hutton’s magnificently photographed portrait of Skagafjördur, the fjord valley and coastline of northwest Iceland, renders it a land that time forgot, with only the barest traces of human activity and with closely observed atmospheric effects that blur distinctions between sea, earth, and sky. 35 min. Sunday, May 11 3:00 p.m. At Sea (2004–07) “The momentum of more than forty thousand tons is as absolute as the darkness” (John McPhee, Looking for a Ship). Hutton’s most recent film—a riveting and revelatory chronicle of the birth, life, and death of a colossal container ship—is unquestionably one of his most ambitious and profound. Charting a three-year passage from 21st-century ship building in South Korea to primitive and dangerous ship breaking in Bangladesh—with an epic journey across the North Atlantic in between—Hutton has created a haunting meditation on human progress, both physical and metaphorical. 60 min. 5:00 p.m. Images of Asian Music; Two Rivers Saturday, May 17–Monday, May 26 Programs to repeat. For more information and full schedule go to or call 212-708-9400.

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This event was last updated on 05-30-2008