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.
A little background: In 1970, a Women’s Committee member named Sally Dixon with an interest in film and a lot of initiative was appointed the Carnegie’s first curator of film. She launched the museum’s Film Section with series of historical screenings, single-artist retrospectives, and in-person appearances. Through these programs, Dixon, and Bill Judson after her, delivered such artists as Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Tony Conrad, Peter Kubelka, Malcolm LeGrice, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, and Michael Snow to capacity audiences of up to 300 people, and paid them the highest honoraria of any institution operating at that time. Many of the artists who visited in the early 70s became close friends of Dixon’s, and stayed at her house while they shot or edited work in Pittsburgh (Brakhage’s Pittsburgh Trilogy is probably the best known of these). Through the late 70s and into the 80s, Bill Judson (now of the University of Pittsburgh) continued to help make the city a hub of avant-garde filmmaking, and expanded the museum’s purview to include the emergent medium of video. Former Pittsburgher Robert Haller, now of Anthology Film Archives, wrote a book about it called Crossroads: Avant-Garde Film in Pittsburgh in the 1970s.
The Carnegie’s Film Section was one of the earliest programs of its kind in an American museum and the collection started in 1970 continues to grow today through the efforts of the contemporary art department. We now mostly acquire digital files, such as Frances Stark’s My Best Thing and Ragnar Kjartansson’s six hour-long video Song (both 2011), but we don’t shy away from works on celluloid, such as Matthew Buckingham’s 1720 (2009), either. Works from the collection are always on view in the museum’s Scaife galleries (My Best Thing was installed last week) and we continue to host exhibitions of new moving image work. Stay tuned for more on one such exhibition: Duncan Campbell, opening in the Forum gallery on April 28 with a public artist talk and reception on Friday, April 27.