Trash talk 3-D summer blockbusters all you want (Roger Ebert once called them “inferior and inherently brain-confusing”), but here’s the thing: We can’t resist them. Since the advent of linear perspective—creating the illusion of depth on a flat surface—artists have been drawn to the challenge of perfecting the three-dimensional image.
That quest kicked into high gear with the dawn of stereoscopic photography in the 1830s (wherein two slightly offset images appear to be superimposed onto each other, creating one 3-D image) and has resurfaced with a vengeance in present-day filmmaking. It’s a move you could dismiss as an excuse for a $5 surcharge on an already-expensive movie ticket, but the method is deceptively complicated, not unlike the tech itself. Which is exactly why LACMA is hosting 3D: Double Vision (July 15 through March 31).
The exhibition traces the lineage of 3-D imagery—from its 19th century inception to the World War II-era View-Master to its Hollywood heyday in the ’50s and beyond—through more than 60 photographs, videos, and holographic sculptures.
“This is a part of our cultural history that hasn’t been isolated and examined before,” says LACMA curator Britt Salvesen, whose accompanying book hits shelves July 17. The show is unlike the museum’s typical fare (although what is “typical” in a post-Rain Room world?). In place of passive ambling, visitors engage in what Salvesen calls “active spectatorship,” meaning you’ll use a variety of apparatuses (stereoscopes, glasses, mounted lenses) to encounter works from the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Ed Ruscha, and William Kentridge.
It’s a showcase that blends fine art, history, pop culture, and the rapidly inflating currency of nostalgia all while recalibrating our sense of what visual experience even is. But the most unexpected upshot of the exhibition might be a fresh appreciation for our innate three-dimensional vision. “These artworks are doing nothing different than our normal perception,” Salvesen says. “We just take it for granted as we move around the world.”
CORRECTION: This post has been updated to remove a reference that indicated this is the country’s first 3-D art exhibit.