Watch Me Move Exhibition opens at Frist Center

Max Fleischer. Betty Boop (film still), 1932–39. 35mm black-and-white film, sound, 6 minutes, 28 seconds. BFI National Archive

Max Fleischer. Betty Boop (film still), 1932–39. 35mm black-and-white film, sound, 6 minutes, 28 seconds. BFI National Archive

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts opens ‘Watch Me Move: The Animation Show,’ the most extensive exhibition ever mounted to present a wide range of animated imagery produced in the last 120 years, on Friday, June 6. Presenting animation as a highly influential force in the development of global visual culture, ‘Watch Me Move’ explores the relationship between animation and film and offers a timely insight into the genre as a cultural phenomenon. ‘Watch Me Move’ will be on view in the Frist Center’s Ingram Gallery through September 1.

“While we often think of animation as an art form for children, this exhibition acknowledges its appeal to all generations and cultures from the United States and Europe to Japan and China,” said Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala. “Most of the works comprise family entertainment, which is often hilarious and ingenious. Even films with purely aesthetic aims, or with mature and socially critical content will change the way people appreciate many of the most creative, yet often unheralded, masters of the medium.”

The show features 85 works, from iconic clips to lesser-known masterpieces.

“As visitors move through galleries illuminated with the glow of screens and projections,” said Scala, “we foresee them experiencing delight in the familiar mingled with pleasure at the imaginative productions of artists and filmmakers who have never achieved a wide audience. From wonder and laughter to provocation and contemplation, even a little shock, ‘Watch Me Move’ inspires a surprising range of emotions.”

Organized by the Barbican Centre, London, the exhibition juxtaposes works by pioneers and independent film-makers including Étienne-Jules Marey, Max Fleischer, and Lotte Reiniger with the creative output of commercial studios such as Disney, Studio Ghibli and Pixar. It also includes works by major contemporary artists such as William Kentridge and Nathalie Djurberg.

Ang Lee. Hulk (film still), 2003. 35mm color film, sound, 138 minutes. Courtesy of Universal City Studios LLC

Ang Lee. Hulk (film still), 2003. 35mm color film, sound, 138 minutes. Courtesy of Universal City Studios LLC

Transforming the gallery into an immersive environment, the exhibition is divided into six thematic groupings: Apparitions, Fables and Fragments, Structures, Characters, Superhumans and Modern Visions. Apparitions focuses on the emergence of the animated image with its roots in photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s now iconic split-second frame images of animals and humans in motion.

Clips feature some of the biggest stars of animation: Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and Felix the Cat; the rise of TV cartoons, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, George Jetson, and Yogi Bear reflected the mores of the 1960s. More recently, the Simpsons and South Park as vehicles for social satire; Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy (1995/1999/2010), in which Woody and his cohort are shown as complex and compelling virtual beings; the Hulk; and Astro Boy, 1963–66, set in a futuristic city.

The Frist Center is partnering with Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre to present an animation series the first three weekends of July, with family-friendly animated classics on Saturday mornings at 10 am, and a midnight movie series with features such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ralph Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic and the anime film Ghost in the Shell for mature audiences.