Described as a key figure of the Pictures Generation, Ericka Beckman’s work investigates how individuals shape their self-image based on outside influencers during an age of mass media. Her films and installations use color, sound and movement to examine cultural signs and subjectivity, particularly with regard to labor, leisure and gender.
In over three decades of filmmaking, Beckman has developed an idiom that constantly directs the viewer back to the rational language of film (one of several mediums in which she works). In describing her earliest works, Beckman notes her interest in the ideas of French structuralist Alain Robbe-Grillet, who urged authors to divorce their subjects from metaphor, and to sidestep a universe of signification in favor of “a world that is both solid and immediate.” Her 2002 film “Switch Center” asserts the presence of the film camera itself and the workings of the filmic medium. Camera angle, stop-action animation, and other techniques direct the viewer toward seeing the transmission of the message as integral to the message itself.
In Beckman’s landmark piece “Cinderella,” the iconic fairy tale is structured as a video game with the main protagonist having to win her own freedom. A foundational work in the history of 80s moving image art, “Cinderella” considers the nature of social roles, how we learn them and act them out. The film reveals Beckman’s investigation in the late 70s of the educational theories of figures like Jean Piaget who considered activities, such as games, as a structure in which children can activate and internalize societal mores. Game play has long been a topic of Beckman’s work; in “Cinderella” and other films, the actors act as participants in a larger drama, often governed by rules that they discover through the course of the action depicted in the film.
Juxtaposing past and present, changing tempos and camera angles, and manipulating sound allows Beckman to playfully push back against the traditional film aesthetic, creating loose yet demanding narratives. “The result is a satisfying, even delightful slipperiness of meaning, a mental vertigo induced by the changefulness of contexts and rules in regard to a given word or object” (Sally Banes, Millennium Film Journal, 1984).
Ericka Beckman (b. 1951, Hampstead, NY) received a BFA from Washington University (St. Louis, MI) and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA) in addition to attending the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (New York, NY). Beckman recently premiered her new work, “STALK,” at Performa Biennial New York in October 2021. Beckman also premiered her solo exhibition, “Fair Game” at M Leuven (Leuven, Belgium) in October 2020, which then traveled to Kestner Gesellschaft (Hannover, Germany) in February 2021. Her work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Philip Martin Gallery (Los Angeles, CA); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA); Pacific Film Archives (Berkeley, CA); Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); MIT List Visual Arts Center (Boston, MA); Hartford Atheneum (Hartford, CT); Artists Space (New York, NY); The Kitchen (New York, NY); MoMA PS1 (New York, NY); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC); Zabludowicz Collection (London, United Kingdom); Tate Modern (London, United Kingdom); Magasin Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble (Grenoble, France); Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France); Kanal – Centre Pompidou (Brussels, Belgium); M-Leuven Museum (Leuven, Belgium); KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin, Germany); Secession (Vienna, Austria); and Kunsthalle Bern (Bern, Switzerland). Her work has been included in group exhibitions such as "Where Art Might Happen: The Early Years of CalArts," Kestner Gesellschaft (Hannover, Germany) and Kunsthaus Graz (Graz, Austria); "Dread & Delight: Fairy Tales in an Anxious World," Weatherspoon Art Museum (Greensboro, NC); "Omnipresence," The Kitchen (New York, NY); "Oracle," The Broad (Los Angeles, CA); "Recit D’un Tempts Court 2," MAMCO (Geneva, Switzerland); "Less Than One," Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); "The St. Petersburg Paradox," Swiss Institute (New York, NY); "One Torino: The Broken Rule, Repertory," Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (Turin, Italy); "Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama, New York 1972-81," Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); "The Pictures Generation 1974-1984," Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); "Automatic Update," Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); "Tomorrowland," Modern Museum of Art, (New York, NY); and Centre George Pompidou (Paris, France); "Version 2000," Centre Pour L’art Contemporain (Geneva, Switzerland); "The Twentieth Century," Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); "Big As Life: An American History of the 8mm Film," Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); "Here/Now," Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebaek, Denmark); "Gender and Technology," Wexner Center of the Arts (Columbus, OH); "Generiques-Desordres," Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume (Paris France); and four Whitney Biennials, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY). Beckman has received many prestigious awards over the years from organizations including the Andy Warhol Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Jerome Foundation. Her work can be found in public collections such as Anthology Film Archives (New York, NY), The Broad Collection (Los Angeles, CA), Centre George Pompidou (Paris, France), Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), Stiftung Kunsthalle Bern (Bern, Switzerland), The British Film Institute (London, United Kingdom), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN), Wxner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH), and Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY). Beckman lives and works in New York, NY.