The Art of Adaptation: Turning books, music, and emails into movies at the Smart

Adaptation: a work that has been recast into a new form. In regard to the Smart Museum’s new exhibition, “Adapation,” this entails the transformation of various artistic expressions–written works, movies, dance, music, email–into film installations. The remodeling of a novel into a movie is quite a familiar process, but the method of adaptation in contemporary art is not quite so common a practice. “Adaptation” works to uncover new understandings of adaptation in postmodern art and address the idea of loyalty and the struggle of the creative process. The show includes six film adaptations by featured artists Guy Ben-Ner, Arturo Herrera, Catherine Sullivan, and Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation. The exhibition includes a varying selection of film genres, from narrative to more abstract, but all of the works are united through their common form of adaptation.

“Adaptation” includes a broad array of international and American artists with diverse artistic backgrounds and unique works. Israeli Guy Ben-Ner has adapted classic films and novels into several of the videos he has filmed since the early 1990s. For example, Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is altered into a silent film, set in the artist’s kitchen. The condensed retelling of a classic tale also explores the restraints of the creative process and the power the artist has in adaptation, the ability to determine what attributes of the original should be continued or abandoned.

In his work, “Les Noces” (“The Wedding”), based on Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name, Arturo Herrera adapts animation to classical music in a unique way, undoubtedly reminiscent of but also departing from Disney’s “Fantasia” (1941). Herrara, an abstract artist originally from Venezuela, adapts the ballet’s 1923 Parisian debut in its entirety for the film, creating a modern representative production. For his complete and final work Herrera chose to depict the marriage between two people while giving testimonial to the elements of the choreography, costumes, stage design and music of Stravinsky’s original ballet through abstraction, a stark black-and-white palette, and multi-layered collage. “Les Noces,” Herrera’s first video installation, makes its world premiere at the Smart.

“The Rape of The Sabine Woman” by Eve Sussman & the Rufus Corporation, which is having its U.S. museum premiere at the Smart, alludes to Jacques-Louis David’s painting “The Intervention of the Sabine Women” (1799). The film creates dynamic imagery alluding to the Roman tale and then expands to explore the complex and intricate relationship between men and women. Catherine Sullivan, an assistant professor in the Department of Visual Art at the University of Chicago, departs from the other artists in her unique form of fashioning e-mail to film. “Triangle of Need” focuses on a mass e-mail scam with a complex backstory and broad material and contains abstract entwined images that are visually stunning. Sullivan’s other work is a small scale new film that was created in collaboration with several UofC students.

“Adaptation,” Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. January 31-May 4. Tuesday-Wednesday, 10am-4pm; Thursday, 10am-8pm; Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. (773)702-0200. smartmuseum.uchicago.edu.
A panel discussion, to be followed by the exhibit opening, is scheduled for January 31, Thursday, 5:30pm. Cochrane-Woods Art Center, 5540 S. Greenwood Ave. Room 157.