DOCUMENT presents their second solo exhibition with the Stan VanDerBeek Archive

Chicago’s pre-eminent contemporary photography, film, and media-based art gallery DOCUMENT recently presented their second solo exhibition in partnership with the Stan VanDerBeek Archive. Born in 1927, Stan VanDerBeek was a prolific multimedia artist known for his pioneering work in experimental film and art and technology. “Panels for the Walls of the World,” VanDerBeek’s 1970 series of murals from which the exhibition borrows its title, was conceived in 1967 as “telephone murals.” VanDerBeek used newly available Xerox Telecopier machines to transmit and output hundreds of mixed media collages combining topical news imagery of the time with the artist’s hand drawn and painted interventions to a variety of public locations. The black and white, graphic fax copies were designed by VanDerBeek to be assembled into larger images following a particular order.


Installation View of “Panels for the Walls of the World: Phase I Stan VanDerBeek” at DOCUMENT. Photo Courtesy of DOCUMENT.

Adapting the series original method, Phase I of “Panels for the Walls of the World” were transmitted by the Stan VanDerBeek Archive in Brooklyn, NY using the original transmission copies and were installed in stages throughout the exhibition’s run at DOCUMENT. The murals are also being exhibited at two satellite sites in Chicago— Hyde Park Art Center (March 19–May 22) and EXPO Chicago (April 7–10). A select portion of the original collages from the 1970 Phase I mural will also be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s exhibition “Art by Telephone” alongside a twelve-panel collage mural made by VanDerBeek in 1969. DOCUMENT’s exhibition will be the first time original components from VanDerBeek’s fax murals will be publicly displayed as well as the first time “Panels for the Walls of the World” has been re-transmitted to multiple sites simultaneously. In September of 2022. Phase II of the mural will be exhibited in Los Angeles at the Box.

In an essay commissioned for the exhibition, Scholar Kristen Gill wrote about the political element of VanDerBeek’s collages: “More than a mere index of the news saturating the media in the late-1960s, the overall scope [of “Panels for the Walls of the World”] gestures at a quite intersectional understanding of interrelated phenomena: racial oppression and anti-Blackness, neoconservative politics, U.S. military aggression, anti-communism, poverty.” To make the hundreds of collages that comprise “Panels for the Walls of the World,” VanDerBeek used daily newspaper headlines about the interrelated, global issues of racism, war, poverty, and corrupt politicians, putting them alongside advertisements that featured idealized images of supposedly “perfect” bodies, commodities, and abundant food.

VanDerBeek often described his murals as mosaics that were designed to be distributed through the use of newly accessible technologies in order to construct a larger, ever-changing image that could be seen simultaneously by people in various locations. This work is similar to his earlier series of films titled “Poemfields,” exhibited by DOCUMENT in 2018, which VanDeBeek created in 1965 by using computers to program individual pixel-like frames in order to generate moving images of language. Describing VanDerBeek’s interest in new technologies and media, Gill writes, “[Panel for the Walls of the World’s] pieces are plucked form an endless media stream and only provisionally tethered to a grid, the mural is a testament to the ‘visual viscosity’ with which VanDerBeek described the intensifying flood of images and a record of the media preoccupations of the era.”

The murals are an intriguing example of VanDerBeek’s intense desire to integrate technology and art to make communication accessible and facilitate a conversation with a larger public who were otherwise being subjected to the violence and alienation of popular, corporate media. His work continues to find relevance in an age of technology where we are inundated with an endless stream of media through the internet and prompts us to reflect on how our relationship to media is constructed by internet technologies and the companies that control them.

“Panels for the Walls of the World,” as with many of VanDerBeek’s multimedia installations, was designed as a project that would evolve over and with time. In a 1969 proposal for AT&T to help sponsor the project, VanDerBeek wrote, “I think it’s extremely important to point out that the “Telephone Mural” concept is a genre or a new art form which can take on almost endless variations, so that its extrinsic value lies not in this one opportunity but in its continuing use in the future.”

The Stan VanDerBeek Archive considers the simultaneous, electronic transmission of the mural as one of the piece’s essential components and has experimented with various ways to understand and implement this process for the first re-staging of this time-based media work. In order to represent VanDerBeek’s intentions and the work’s ongoing preservation, the Archive and DOCUMENT have examined various issues regarding conservation, preservation, labor, technology, obsolescence and performance.

Panels for the Walls of the World: Phase I Stan VanDerBeek Info

DateMarch 5 – April 23, 2022
Address1709 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
HoursTuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm, or by appt.
TEL(312) 535 4555
URLPanels for the Walls of the World