In Milan the first Italian solo exhibition of Charles Atlas, pioneer of video art

The ICA Foundation in Milan is organizing the first solo exhibition in Italy of American artist Charles Atlas, one of the pioneers of video art.

From March 3 to 6, 2021, the ICA Milan Foundation reopens to the public with a major solo exhibition of one of the leading contemporary American artists, Charles Atlas (St. Louis, 1949), one of the pioneers of video art. The exhibition is titled Charles Atlas. Ominous, glamorous, momentous, ridiculous and is the first solo exhibition in Italy of the American director and video artist, a leading figure on the international art scene. The exhibition had been set up in February 2020 but never opened due to the health emergency, and was nevertheless the subject of a digital campaign on Instagram and Facebook profiles thanks to a virtual tour in chapters.

The exhibition, curated by Alberto Salvadori, director of the ICA Milan Foundation, and developed in close collaboration with the artist, proposes a path along the most significant phases of Charles Atlas’ research, through a selection of historical works, recent works and a new production that together profoundly transform the space of the foundation through a weaving of sounds, movements, lights and colors.

Known for his radical and experimental film practice, for more than four decades Charles Atlas has based his research on the dialogue between different disciplines such as video, dance and performance, creating installations, documentaries, multimedia projects, TV productions and live performances.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles Atlas moved to New York in the 1970s to pursue filmmaking. He thus began working with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, becoming its filmmaker in residence. Between 1974 and 1983 Atlas developed with dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham a new hybrid language that the two called media-dance or dance for camera, in which choreographies are conceived and performed specifically for the video camera, which, moving in synchrony with the dancing body, breaks the traditional static nature of filming. In 1983 Atlas left Cunningham’s company to further his artistic practice, often collaborating with different artists. Major collaborations include those with dancers, musicians and poets including Karole Armitage, Michael Clark, DANCENOISE, Dougas Dunn, Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer and Marina Abramović, and more recently, those with Mika Tajima, Anohni and Lady Bunny.

The exhibition tour begins on the first floor of the foundation. Welcoming the visitor is the articulate sound and visual installation The Waning of Justice (2015), which associates the intimate narrative of drag performer Lady Bunny with various projections and footage of blazing sunsets, accompanied by the countdown of a large digital clock marking the 18 minutes it takes the sun to set. From this reflection on the transience of life, the exhibition continues on the second floor with an exploration of the artist’s most cherished themes: the relationship between video and dance, contemporary identity politics and underground glamour. On display here are some seminal works resulting from his collaboration with performers and dancers, including Blue Studio: Five Segments (1976), Locale (1980) and Channels/Inserts (1981), made in collaboration with Merce Cunningham; Hail the New Puritan (1986), a film made with dancer and choreographer Michael Clark; Ex-Romance (1984/1987), in collaboration with dancer and choreographer Karole Armitage; and The Legend of Leigh B owery (2002), a documentary about fashion designer and performer Leigh Bowery. Completing the exhibition is Turning Portraits, a video installation specially conceived by Atlas as a remix of video portraits made by reworking footage from the band Antony and The Johnsons’ TURNING tour in 2006, in collaboration with singer and musician Anohni.

The exhibition aims to highlight how over the years dance has been a constant theme in Atlas’ research, whose center of interest is not exclusively choreography, but also the dancing subject in relation to the community of people who make it possible: performers, choreographers, composers, costume designers, and directors. As Alberto Salvadori and Chiara Nuzzi, assistant curator, write in the text accompanying the exhibition, “for Atlas, filming dance was not simply about capturing a body in motion; it was and continues to be a gesture of approaching and exploring the vast worlds that bodies themselves inhabit. [...] Indeed, since the beginning of his practice, Atlas has wanted to see, and at the same time show, the true self that lies within each of his subjects. Through the choreographic structures, however, Atlas portrayed them not as dancers or performers, but as people. Inextricably linked to this desire is the artist’s interest in the worlds of underground cultures and clubbing, worlds that are sometimes terribly raw and honest, imbued with a glamorous and bohemian charm, experienced as antidotes to counteract the cynicism and violence of the world.”

The artist’s work is distinguished by incessant research into the expressive potential of time-based media and constant experimentation with technology. Particularly fascinated by the defamiliarizing impact produced by techniques such as chroma-key, in more recent years, Atlas has woven digitally generated animations into his work, creating technically complex and sophisticated video installations. In his works, in fact, the artist explores the iconography of numerical sequences and the ways in which visual space is segmented and structured.

Visitors will have 12 days, Wednesday through Friday, to discover the exhibition, which will close its doors for good on Friday, March 26. In order to guarantee the safety of the public and ensure compliance with current regulations, the visit is by means of quota entrances with reservations required exclusively through the email For information you can visit the ICA Foundation website.

In Milan the first Italian solo exhibition of Charles Atlas, pioneer of video art
In Milan the first Italian solo exhibition of Charles Atlas, pioneer of video art

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