Robert Breer (1926-2011)


Robert Breer, sculptor and pioneering animation artist best known for films that combine line drawing, painting and photography, has died at age 85.

Born in Detroit in 1926, he studied engineering at Stanford before becoming an artist. He moved to Paris in 1949. His first paintings were colorful geometric abstractions inspired by Mondrian. In the early ’50s, he began experimenting with animation in the form of flip books and then film. His first film, Form Phases (1952), was a stop-motion animation based on his paintings.

Breer returned to the U.S. in 1959 and embarked on his ongoing series of “Floats,” motorized forms like steps, arcs and columns, usually made of Styrofoam, that slowly moved across the floor, changing direction, proto-Roomba-like, upon contact with an object or wall. Breer worked briefly with Claes Oldenburg in the early 1960s, and was friends with such new media artists as Nam June Paik and Charlotte Mormon.

In the 1970s, he also created animation segments for the children’s TV show “The Electric Company.” He was a longtime professor at Cooper Union in New York.

Even after his return to the U.S., Breer remained better known in Europe than in his homeland. Since 2001 he had shown regularly with gb agency in Paris.

A retrospective of his work is on view at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England, through Sept. 25, and another will appear at the Museum Tinguely, Basel, Oct. 26, 2011–Jan. 29, 2012. Breer made a documentary in 1961 on Tinguely, whose interest in mechanical movement and kinetic forms was clearly an influence on the American.

He was included in the 2004–05 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. Exhibitions of his work have been held in Paris at the Musée National d’Art Moderne (2001) and the Palais de Tokyo (1992), the London ICA (1983), the Whitney Museum, New York (1977, 1980) and the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo (1975), among others.