If you’ve seen Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video, with it’s psychedelic-looking zooms, flashes, and interweaving forms and patterns, or the abstract montage images in Terence Malick’s recent film “Tree of Life”, you might be surprised to learn that a Miami Valley artist helped pioneer this iconic visual style as an experimental filmmaker in New York in the 1960’s.
Jud Yalkut’s nearly 50-year artistic career includes exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In February, the University of Dayton honors Yalkut’s global and local contribution to the arts with a retrospective exhibit that includes film, video, collage, and multi-media installation. WYSO’s Community Voices Producer Susan Byrnes spotlights Yalkut and his artistic inspirations.
I recently visited with artist Jud Yalkut to talk about his upcoming exhibition, “Visions and Sur-realities” at the University of Dayton, and the experience was quite a trip. A quick YouTube search results in some of Yalkut’s best-known works, with visual effects like glowing, neon-bright scenes and patterns; wavy television lines; overlapping image montages; and lightning fast in and out zooms, with soundtracks ranging from the Beatles in psychedelic mode to the Byrds to Moonlight Serenede. His films and other works aren’t intended to tell a story; they are meant to overload your senses and expand your mind.
Yalkut says his work has been between two extremes, “In Sufic dancing, the whirling dervishes reach states of ecstasy which put them into communion with higher levels of being. Then on the other end you have the meditative form, which is another way of going inside and create a continuum between the inside and the outside. Actually you can’t tell where one begins and one ends in the end. And both of these are means of getting to the same place, so they’re the antipodes of alternative consciousness.”
Jeanne Philipp, a professor of Art History at the University of Dayton, is curating the Jud Yalkut retrospective at the University. She says, “Jud came to Ohio from New York and developed the first film and video program at Wright State University in the early 70’s. We chose works that reflected 40 years of the artist’s work, beginning with work in the late ’50’s and early ‘60’s in film and media, collaborations with well known artists and musicians and dancers, works in holography that were developed with the University of Dayton Physics Department and Research Institute, also we have two-dimensional collage works that were included in literary journals. His work as a filmmaker, media artist, teacher, and arts writer has impacted the Dayton community for over 25 years.”
Yalkut’s experimental films and videos, some made in collaboration with artworld superstars Nam Jun Paik, Yayoi Kusama, and Trisha Brown, have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Yalkut’s known for his explorations into emerging electronic technologies, from film to video to holography, but for him, it isn’t about a love of the technology itself.
“In terms of the filmed images,” Yalkut says, “I have often worked with natural elements but have been transferring them through digital and analog means. I mean it’s enhancing these different forms of experiencing life. I was always interested in using media as a means of humanizing technology and, so it always had a spiritual context to it for me.”
Art educator Pam Houk sees Buddhist imagery come up in Yalkut’s work. “He talks about his time in California, going west, as a spiritual quest,” Houk says, “At that time he met a lot of other poets, a lot of other artists who were very interested in eastern philosophies. When he went back to New York, then he sort of gravitated to artists who were also interested in these things.”
New York’s vibrant art scene inspired multi-disciplinary collaborations with artists, choreographers, and composers that would determine the course of his artistic career from that point forward.
“Well the whole thing about life in New York at that time in the early 60’s was a lot of interactive things between people working in different disciplines in the arts,” Yalkut says, “Everybody working in the arts at some point or another met or knew or hung out with other people in other arts and this all overlapped. And then of course one of the big breakthroughs was when I started working with Nam Jun Paik, who was really the great innovator in trying to do things with… we’ll call it television at that time because video was really evolving.”
Yalkut’s work connects electronic technology with art history, contemporary society, and personal expression.
University of Cincinnati Professor Ben Britton says, “Jud has been part of that flow, that tradition of using technology to humanize it. I think his work is an inspiration to younger artists. They see how he freely appropriates advanced media tools and uses them in a completely liberated, unabashedly personal way.”
The Jud Yalkut retrospective at the University of Dayton opens on Thursday, January 31st from 5 to 7pm, with an artist talk in Gallery 249. A film screening and symposium will be held at ArtStreet on Friday and Saturday, February 22nd and 23rd, with a panel discussion on Saturday. For more information about the exhibition and accompanying programs, go to arts.udayton.edu.