Ericka Beckman

Ericka Beckman, BFA74

With her formal sophistication and playful, punk-influenced DIY aesthetic, filmmaker Ericka Beckman emerged as a key figure in The Pictures Generation, arguably the definitive artistic movement of the 1970s and '80s.

Yet where contemporaries like Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, and Richard Prince sought to interrogate the social and political underpinnings of mass imagery, Beckman emphasizes the psychology of the viewer. Films like We Imitate: We Break Up (1978) and Cinderella (1986) combine games, fairy tales, and crude, homemade effects to highlight the feedback loop of media representation, individual imagination, and group behavior.

"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,'" wrote Sally Banes in the Millennium Film Journal.

Isobel Harbison, writing in Frieze Magazine, adds that today, "when technology-enabled image-exchange—think of 'sharing' your pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Flickr—is marketed as connective fun but sold as someone else's asset, her work is more relevant than ever."

A native of Hampstead, New York, Beckman earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Washington University in 1974. She attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1975 and earned a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1976. After graduation, she returned to New York and began exhibiting at the nonprofit Artists Space and other venues.

A four-time participant in the Whitney Biennial, Beckman has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Kunsthalle Bern (Switzerland), and currently at Le Magasin (Grenoble, France). In 2009, she was featured in The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, a major group retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2013, The Tate Modern in London presented Image Games, the first retrospective screening of her works in the United Kingdom. Recently, the Whitney Museum of American Art featured her work in Rituals of Rented Island: Object Theater, Loft Performance, and the New Psychodrama—Manhattan 1970-1980.

Beckman's works are in the film collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Anthology Film Archives, the British Film Institute, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Stiftung Bern Foundation, and the Centre Pompidou. Among other honors, she has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, two grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, and one grant from the Massachusetts Council on the Arts.

In addition to her work as a filmmaker and artist, Beckman is a professor in the Film/Video Department of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.