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Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection

The Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, housed at the Walker Art Center, has since 1973 grown to more than 1,000 titles—from early film history starting with the Lumière Brothers in 1894 to the present. Established to further the appreciation and scholarly study of the art of film, the collection serves as a basis for an exploration of the history of cinema and the aesthetic and theoretical properties of the medium. Not limited to one genre or era, the strengths are in early silent films with a concentration on those from the Soviet era, the European avant-garde from the 1930s and 1940s, and American experimental films from the 1950s through today.

Works from the Ruben/Bentson Collection are regularly featured in Walker exhibitions, including the recent Midnight Party (2011), The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973 (2012), and Art Expanded, 1958–1978 (2014), which charts a transformational phase in the history of 20th-century art when artists around the world collectively began to challenge, critique, and upend traditional media and disciplines.

Selections from the collection are presented daily on-site in free screenings in the Lecture Room and the Best Buy Film & Video Bay. Among other programs, classic films are featured in outdoor screenings as part of Summer Music & Movies, the Walker’s annual summer showcase of free films and eclectic music in Loring Park and Walker Open Field. Throughout the year, works drawn from the collection are part of historical and thematic programs in the state-of-the-art Walker Cinema. For a complete schedule of screenings and exhibitions, see the Walker Calendar.

As it is important to present artists’ works not only in original film formats but also in transition to new platforms, the Walker has since 2012 commissioned new works for the collection and the Walker Channel. The first of these commissions was from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a boundary-breaking director with a long relationship with our multidisciplinary institution, whose short video Cactus River (Khong Lang Nam) debuted on the Walker’s website.

During a two-year appointment that began in 2014, Isla Leaver-Yap, the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar based in Glasgow, Scotland, is exploring the collection with fresh ideas of interpretation and presentation. In this new position made possible by a generous grant from the Bentson Foundation, Leaver-Yap will expand scholarship around the Walker’s renowned moving image collection as well as advise on shaping the philosophy for new commissions and acquisitions.

A Brief History of the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection

The collection was established in 1973 with a grant from Edmond R. Ruben, a leading figure in film exhibition in the Upper Midwest, and his wife, Evelyn. The Rubens, who both served as Walker trustees, believed in collecting films as a way of preserving the art form and making film assessable to the general public. In this era before video rental or downloads, film was screened in its original format and projected in a dark room. After an initial purchase of 15 films, the Walker continued to add to the collection, which became distinctive for its holdings of works by a wide range of artists, including Stan Brakhage, Marcel Broodthaers, Bruce Conner, Salvador Dalí, Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp, Derek Jarman, William Klein, Fernand Léger, Gunvor Nelson, Nam June Paik, and Paul Sharits.

In 1999, the Walker received a generous gift from Nancy (daughter of the Rubens) and Larry Bentson, who wanted to continue their family’s support of Walker’s film/video program. The Bentson Family Fund for the Acquisition, Conservation, and Presentation of Film was used during the next 10 years to expand and preserve the Ruben Collection, while supporting innovative programs such as the dynamic cross-disciplinary series Music + Film.

In 2011, the Walker received the first of three major grants from the Bentson Foundation to continue the preservation, exhibition, and presentation of the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection. Acquiring new works and transitioning works to digital formats had been the focus of the past several years. “From digitizing 16mm and 35mm films prints to upgrading our cinema to become a state-of-the-art exhibition facility, we are now able to show the films to much wider audiences while continuing to present them in their original formats to scholars and students,” says Sheryl Mousley, Walker senior curator of film/video.

The collection is available to scholars and professors for individual or small group study. For more information about the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, contact film@walkerart.org.

Yakov Protazanov, Aelita: Queen of Mars, 1924

Hollis Frampton, Lemon, 1969

© The estate of Hollis Frampton
Photo courtesy of Anthology Film Archives

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cactus River, 2012

Courtesy the artist