Poetry Foundation to screen films by famed photographer Rudy Burckhardt this Thursday

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Mounting Tension (1950)
  • Mounting Tension (1950)
On Thursday at 7 PM, the Poetry Foundation will present a free program of short films made by Rudy Burckhardt (1914-99) in collaboration with famous poets, among them John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara. Burckhardt remains best known for his photography—pace the UK Independent's obituary, "his images of [New York City], for example the classic one of the Flatiron Building, are among the most fundamental and enduring taken this century—though he was also prolific as a painter and filmmaker. Starting in the mid-1930s, he authored dozens of short films, which "ranged from comedies . . . to travelogues, to artist documentaries, to quick-paced collage diary films."

Thursday's program features a couple of Burckhardt's comedies: Mounting Tension (1950), which stars Ashbery (as "a jock turned abstract painter," according to the Poetry Foundation summary) and painters Larry Rivers and Jane Feilicher; and Automotive Story (1954), a mockumentary about car culture featuring O'Hara. The other two shorts on the program are more experimental works from the 1980s: In Bed (1986) and Ostensibly (1989), which visualize poems by, respectively, Kenneth Koch and Ashbery. With the exception of Automotive Story (which will be presented digitally), all these shorts will screen from 16-millimeter.

The impressive list of collaborators speaks to Burckhardt's central role in the New York art world—and the list doesn't end with these four films. Some of Burckhardt's other "stars" include Willem de Kooning, Aaron Copland, and Paul Bowles; and in the 1950s he codirected four shorts with the great Joseph Cornell. "Friendship formed the basis of Burckhardt's aesthetic," according to the Independent obituary.

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