LACMA Presents 3D: Double Vision

Joseph Jastrow, LACMA
Joseph Jastrow, Experiments in Visual Perception, c. 1905, exhibition prints from glass negatives, Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, photo courtesy California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside

Los Angeles—The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents the first North American survey of 3D objects and practices, tracing cycles of optical investigation, creative expression, and commercial popularity over the past 175 years. Featuring artifacts of mass culture alongside historic and contemporary art, 3D: Double Vision addresses the nature of perception, the allure of illusionism, and our relationship to accompanying technologies and apparatuses. The optical principle underlying all 3D media is binocular vision—the process by which our brains synthesize the information received by our two eyes into a single, volumetric image. The more than 60 artworks featured in the exhibition activate this process by means of mirrors, lenses, filters, or movement—requiring active participation on the part of spectators to complete the illusion. 

Many 3D media are included in the exhibition—from stereoscopic photography, film, video, anaglyph printing, and computer animation, to the glasses-free formats of holography and lenticular—alongside 2D works that generate 3D effects by other means. The creators of these works are equally diverse: some are noted artists, others are primarily considered scientists, engineers, directors, or designers, and still others are unknown makers. 

“At this moment when everyone is talking about virtual space and immersive art, 3D: Double Vision invites the audience to dissect the complexities of vision and perception. Throughout history artists have experimented with theories of vision and perception to represent, distill, and reinvent objects and the emotions they engender,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “This exhibition underscores LACMA’s longstanding commitment to exploring art and technology in the museum’s exhibitions and programming. 3D: Double Vision brings together the realms of art, science, mass culture, and entertainment, and is a microcosm of Los Angeles itself.” 

“In 2013 I curated the exhibition See the Light: Photography, Perception, Cognition—The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, which explored the connections between the history of vision science and the history of photography. The stereoscope and photography were invented at nearly the same moment (1838/39), and together they demonstrated the workings of binocular vision for the first time,” said Britt Salvesen, Head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings Department at LACMA. “Since then, the quest for the perfect 3D representation has driven innovation and sparked wonder in generation after generation. In its broader scope, 3D: Double Vision demonstrates that this fascination with 3D representation persists from the Victorian era to the present day.”

Lucy Raven, LACMA
Lucy Raven, Curtains, 2014, anaglyph video installation, 5.1 sound, dimensions variable, duration 50 min., courtesy of the artist, © Lucy Raven

History of 3D 

The history of 3D begins in the 1830s with the invention of the stereoscope. Initially considered a scientific device, the stereoscope soon entered popular culture, as Victorian audiences became fascinated with stereo photographs depicting faraway lands, colossal monuments, current events, and comic scenes. 3D motion picture technology followed in the 20th century, paving the way for the Hollywood boom of the 1950s, along with consumer products such as View-Masters and Stereo Realist cameras. Other 3D formats, notably lenticular printing and holography, were invented to generate dimensional effects without the aid of glasses. Today’s artists have access to these analog techniques and myriad digital tools, enabling them to capture spatial information and create virtual worlds. 

Exhibition Organization 

3D: Double Vision is organized in five thematic sections, which trace the generational cycles of 3D. An introductory section focuses on the optics of binocular vision, as demonstrated by the earliest inventors of the stereoscope and by subsequent artists who wanted to explore not what we see, but how we see. The second and third sections address two peak periods of 3D popularity: the Victorian era and the 1950s, when education and entertainment were closely intertwined in thriving mass-market visual cultures. The fourth section turns to the 1960s and ’70s, when art and technology partnerships resulted in a range of experimental film, performance, installation, and objects that stimulate altered perception. Finally, the exhibition looks at a sampling of 3D art from the late 1980s to the present, an era of appropriation, quotation, and reflection on the capacities of human vision and cognition. 

To familiarize themselves with the principles of binocular vision and to experience the full effects of 3D, visitors are invited to engage and interact with 3D devices throughout the exhibition. Several works will require the use of optical apparatuses, including Victorian stereoscopes, View-Masters, and modern lens-based devices. For other works, disposable anaglyph (red-blue) and polarized glasses will be provided. Several works do not require devices or glasses. 

Salvesen adds, “In an important sense, these artworks require the participation of a spectator to be fully realized. The ultimate goal is a 3D image, which exists only virtually, in the spectator’s mind. 3D: Double Vision is a show that must be experienced in person.” 

Simone Forti, LACMA
Simone Forti, Striding (detail), 1975-1978, 120º Integral Multiplex Hologram, wood base, 59 7/16 x 20 x 13 in.,The Box LA, © Simone Forti, Photography © 2018 Fredrik Nilsen, All Rights Reserved


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