Watch Me Move at Barbican Art Gallery

The Barbican Art Gallery in London has devoted its summer show to a celebration of animation, from The Lumière Brothers to The Simpsons. Here are some highlights…

The Barbican Art Gallery in London has devoted its summer show to a celebration of animation, from The Lumière Brothers to The Simpsons. Here are some highlights…

The exhibition, which opened today, takes place across the large art gallery space at Barbican, and mixes familar names from the commercial world with pieces by contemporary artists who have been influenced by animation techniques. Its title, Watch Me Move, is inspired by Winsor McCay’s short from 1911, Little Nemo Moving Comics (still above).

The exhibition is divided into loose themes, opening with a section that looks at the early emergence of the genre. Included here are experiments with photography and science, as well as early cartoons, such as Walt Disney’s bone-chattering short Skeleton’s Dance, shown above, which was created in 1929 with Ub Iwerks.

Another delight is Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (above, from 1914), which appears within a brief history of dinosaur special effects in the exhibition, spanning from McCay’s delicate line drawing to Steven Spielberg’s use of emerging CGI technologies in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.

A large section of the exhibition is devoted to the much-loved characters that have been created via animation, with screenings featuring everyone from Bugs Bunny to Betty Boop, Felix the Cat to Homer Simpson. Be warned: hours of time may be lost here. Elsewhere, there are screenings looking at the notion of the ‘superhuman’ cartoon character, with a particular focus on Anime. The god-like nature of the animator is also explored through a number of films, including Chuck Jones’ fantastic, and surprisingly conceptual, Duck Amuck (1953), shown above.

Alongside cartoons, Watch Me Move showcases other animation styles, including stop-motion and shadow-puppets. Again, many seminal works are on display, including Ray Harryhausen’s The Story of Rapunzel (1952), shown above, which appears in an expansive section looking at the use of animation as a means to retell fables and fairy tales. The documentation of historical events via animation is also covered here: among the contemporary artworks are pieces by Kara Walker, who uses shadow puppets to tell political stories, and there are also excellent contemporary animated filmworks such as Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008, trailer shown below) and screenings of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007).

The Barbican gets around the problem of such a screen-heavy show by the use of clever exhibition design, by Chezweitz & Roseapple. A multitude of different screen sizes are used; some encourage you to stop and linger in specially created booths with speakers installed, whereas others allow you just to wander through soaking up the multitude of imagery on display. There is also an expansive ‘cabinet of curiosities’ featuring examples of plates from cartoons as well as the original puppets and figures from a number of films. In addition, there is a display packed with enough vinyl toys to keep any graphic designer (or kiddie) happy.

The end result is a family friendly show, with films here for all tastes, child or adult. For the more hardcore animation fan, Watch Me Move offers the chance to rediscover classics of the genre, and also see the influence it has had on art, while for others it simply provides an excellent opportunity to while away a few pleasant hours watching cartoons.

Watch Me Move will be at the Barbican Art Gallery until September 11. There will be a series of talks, screening and events during the run, more info is at


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