Archive for the ‘Finds’ Category

Film Posters 1976–1981

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Between recent exhibitions like Paul Sharits at Greene Naftali and upcoming shows like Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo Avant-Garde in the 1970s at Albright-Knox, experimental filmmakers who came to prominence in the 70s are getting their due these days. We’ve been taking stock of our film collection, too, with help from an A.W. Mellon Foundation grant, so it seemed like an opportune moment to share a selection of posters from an amazing series of artist talks and screenings hosted by the Carnegie Film Section (1970–1980), later the Department of Film and Video (1980–2003). Some of the rarest and most valuable material in our collection are recordings from these presentations.


Filmoteka Launched out of Warsaw

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Yael Bartana Walls and Towers

Wow, this is really something special. Just a few days ago, the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw launched an online collection of Polish film and video: Filmoteka. It’s all there— digitized, catalogued by artist, and accessible by the click of a button. (Thanks to Tate film curator Stuart Comer for pointing this out in his talk at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art last night.) You will remember names like Paweł Althamer, Katarzyna Kozyra, Wilhelm Sasnal, and Mirosław Bałka from past Carnegie Internationals. But check out the long list of films by Artur Żmijewski and Zbigniew Libera as well as Yael Bartana, Joanna Malinowska, Wojciech Bąkowski, and Anna Molska. The Lawrenceville Apartment needs to host a night of screenings, stat!

Maxo Vanka Murals

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

When you look out past the railroad tracks across the Allegheny River (just down the block from the artist’s apartment in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville) you see Millvale, Pennsylvania. One Saturday this fall I ventured over to this small hamlet of a town, wandering past worn industrial buildings, a few newly-sprouted community gardens, rowhouses—likely the homes of former steel workers—and old churches. On the walk I met a young man from town on his way to one such church: St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish. He was about to give a tour of the church’s murals and asked if I wanted to come along. I had heard about an artist of the WPA era whose murals had recently been preserved, but hadn’t realized they were in the neighborhood. The church was cold and dark upon entry. A few others gathered in the lobby for the tour. Over the next hour-and-a-half I relaxed into a pew, craning my neck upward in delight as the young man and his fellow tour guide, a retired history teacher, talked to us about the Croatian American artist I had heard of only in passing: Maxo Vanka.

For some time in 1937 and then again in 1941, after Vanka naturalized as a U.S. citizen, the artist painted over 22 murals in tempera on site in St. Nicholas, a congregation home to ten percent of the U.S. Croatian immigrant population at the time. Themes of war and the rising labor movement dominate Vanka’s powerful scenes. The dress and ceremony of mourning women, I was told, was an Old World Croatian tradition. The faces of Vanka’s women had a sobering Byzantine look and feel to them with wide eyes full of sadness. Two of the most memorable murals for me include Injustice, depicted as a frightening woman wearing a long black gown and gas mask, holding scales unequaled by greed, a bloody sword resting on her shoulder. Another was The Capitalist, a Mr. Burns-style industrialist in top hat smoking a long cigarette, almost chucking to himself while reading the stock report as he is served a gluttonous feast.

Interestingly, Vanka was not religious. His accomplishment in Millvale speaks to an era of hard labor and sorrow that today we appreciate not as religious fervor, but rather, simple human history. For the curious, plan a visit on the weekend and call ahead for tour times, or get your hands on filmmaker Kenneth Love’s recently premiered documentary: Maxo Vanka’s Masterpiece: The Murals at St. Nicholas Church.

Robert Breer’s Lesser-known “Floats”

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

It occurs to me that most of my posts thus far have related to something or other that has been unearthed in the process of digging around in old files. Either I love archives or just intersect with them a lot in the course of my working life… In any case, it figures that when I read Art Forum‘s recent “Passages” piece on artist-filmmaker (and 2004 Carnegie International artist), Robert Breer, who died last summer, I immediately thought of something I found in the Film Section file cabinets a while back. So here’s a tribute to Breer, nerdy archival style…

Most people talk about the domed kinetic sculptures (slow moving, self-propelled objects that the artist called “floats”) that Breer built for the Pepsi Cola Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan.  And rightly so: the Pavilion was a crowning achievement for Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). People who lived in Pittsburgh during the mid-1970s, however, might best remember Breer for the three floats he made for the 1974 Three Rivers Arts Festival— a mechanized crumpled plastic mass, pyramid, and stacked box “ziggurat” that crept slowly around a plaza near Gateway Center. So slowly in fact, that their movement was nearly imperceptible, until the viewer turned around to find the arrangement had changed.

I grew up in Pittsburgh but hadn’t been born yet, so it was (exciting!) news to me when I discovered the documentation in the artist’s Film Section file. There was apparently a concurrent gallery exhibition of some of Breer’s smaller kinetic works, but I haven’t been able to find out where that took place. Some photos to share anyway, pending more research.

Please comment if you know something more about this project, or if you know who the photographer was…

Music and Design from Beirut and beyond

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Over one especially memorable meal of delicious Armenian food in Beirut, I met the front men for Mashrou’ Leila, a lively 6-member indie band/orchestra that is a mix of traditional Arab music and rock. Driving home from dinner, we listened to their newly released album through the car stereo. Before I knew it, I was humming along. They play often in Beirut where they are very popular, but have never toured the US.

To see and hear more, watch this! 

Although I couldn’t translate most of the political posters and billboards littering the sides of buildings and buses, after driving around Beirut for a few hours, I quickly found that Middle Eastern graphic design is looking pretty fresh right now. My instincts proved true when I discovered that indeed it was a budding creative outlet for young artists and designers, especially amid the political fervor of the Arab Spring. Graphic identity and typography negotiates the balance of the old, calligraphic tradition, with the new—an apt metaphor for the dilemmas of the ongoing revolutions in the region.  I found this well-illustrated book (in English) featuring a number of new designers, including Persian designers as well. The editors have already released a second volume.