Posts Tagged ‘Collections’

The Film Collection – On view through March 2014

Friday, June 28th, 2013
harry smith_heaven and earth magick 1962

Still from Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magick, 1962

This month we opened our new and improved modern and contemporary collection galleries. The installation is a component of the 2013 Carnegie International (as is the Playground Project, which also opened this month in the Heinz Architectural Center) and highlights the major role the International has played in forming the museum’s collection. As the show has been curated by different individuals over its nearly 120 year history, and as those individuals have chosen to acquire certain things rather than others, the collection has a unique character reflective of personal tastes and interests.  Sometimes major artists were missed, but with the benefit of hindsight, the museum has continued to fill in the gaps through new acquisitions. Works that weren’t in Internationals past are included in the reinstallation as well, to create a cohesive presentation of many of our best works.

Film and video is one facet of artistic practice that showed up late on the International‘s radar, appearing for the first time in the 1985 iteration. In the meantime, the Film and Video department was doing really innovative things, bringing some of the most important filmmakers to Pittsburgh to present their work and building an outstanding collection. Rethinking the collection galleries has given us the opportunity to make room for this frequently overlooked segment of our holdings (and history), so we’ve built an elegant new “black box” space in gallery 14.  Over the course of the next 8 months–through the run of the International– this gallery will be home to a roughly chronological, rotating program of works by 11 major artists (see the full upcoming schedule after the jump). Most of the films that will be on view were acquired during the Film and Video department’s first ten years (1970-1980), and some were presented in person by the filmmaker.

First up: Harry Smith‘s Heaven and Earth Magick (1962), a surreal collage film composed from Victorian-era catalogues and exercise manuals that Smith produced over a period of five years using a randomizing selection process called sortilege, inspired by the Surrealist practice of automatic writing.  Smith adopted a strategic regimen of sleep deprivation, working to the point of exhaustion and then transferring his dreams to film upon waking. The resulting animation revolves around a male magus character who, after injecting a female figure with magic potion, finds she has disintegrated and must be reassembled.

Heaven and Earth Magic includes references to the Kabbalah, 19th-century philology, and the writings of Dr. Wilder Penfield on open-brain surgery and the concept of the Homunculus, evincing Smith’s nearly encyclopedic knowledge of esoterica and mysticism. The artist was an avid collector of everything from pop-up books and forgotten folk records (he famously compiled the Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952) to Native American costumes, string figures, and Fabergé eggs. His interest in ethnic artifacts and everyday ephemera, as well as obscure forms of knowledge and the occult, was rooted in a search for universality underlying the diversity of human endeavor.

Stop by and see the film before July 8th, when we’ll switch it out for a compilation of Kenneth Anger‘s early work.


Zines at the Carnegie Library

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Zines at Carnegie Library

The Carnegie Museum of Art shares a massive building with both the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Library. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the art museum’s massive Hall of Architecture and use my employee badge to open a small dark door in the back corner and then suddenly appear in the middle of a bustling public library. A few steps away, nestled in a cozy corner of the very user-friendly first floor, is the Zine Collection. There are always teenagers and others reading the zines. I love encountering these DIY, subversive, weird, brilliant little publications in the middle of the library. The collection is overseen by Jude Vachon, who does all sorts of good things with zines and art around town. Here’s a nice piece she wrote for the Post-Gazette about the library.

Next time you’re at the museum, don’t miss the zines next door.

Tehran is the capital of Iran

Monday, September 10th, 2012

A work by Alexander Calder in front of portraits of Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Hosseini Khamenei at the Tehran Museum of Art

“Why are you in Tehran?,” people in the capital continuously asked me. “Why are you going to Tehran?,” my friends wondered. Well, come to Pittsburgh in October 2013, visit the Carnegie International, and you will know. Until then, travel to Tehran, don’t believe what you read in the papers, or what they tell you on TV and other media. It’s absolutely stunning, it’s way too isolated, it’s not dangerous, it’s big (the metropolitan Tehran counts more than 15m inhabitants), the youth is great, as is suspicion, knowledge, curiosity, and hospitality.

Okay, there is some really bad stuff going on there, and there are not many tourists around, either. So, the first thing I did was walk to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art built by Iranian architect Kamran Diba and opened in 1977. According to Wikipedia, this great building hosts “the most valuable collection of Western modern art outside of Europe and the United States. It is said that there is approximately £2.5 billion worth of modern art held at the museum.” Entering into the main hall, you could see a mobile by Alexander Calder floating in front of portraits of Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Hosseini Khamenei (see image above). They had their collection of Giacometti, Hamilton, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Vasarely, and Warhol on display (see images below). While visiting, you were surrounded by a gentle sound (as in many of Tehran’s art galleries) which let me drift away into melancholia. You couldn’t help but wonder what this kind of high-end Western contemporary art was doing in today’s Iran (read here why contemporary art is indeed important in Iran). Out of this bluesy mood I sent a message to Sam Keller, the director of the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland, who initially wanted to travel to Tehran with me. He texted me back that that it was Ernst Beyeler who had sold some of these works to Farah Pahlavi, the Shah’s wife, and responded to my melancholy with “Warhol had the blues.” A few hours later, I learned that there was not too much reason for playing the blues.

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.


Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Quantity and quality are the pleasures and problems of sites that collect and distribute images (like Flickr and others). Confronted with an overwhelming mass of pictures and their equally overwhelming lack of quality, you feel like sitting next to a friend who guides you through 100s of pictures of a recent trip. There are a few exceptions though, and the one I enjoy the most at the moment is It offers some archaeology of every day life and provides a certain context to the pictures, which are accompanied by comments and discussions. But the real pleasure of Shorpy is that it functions like a school for composition. Most of the pictures are based on classical composition schemes; there is an air of solid formal work there and you can learn a great deal why some pictures are more efficient than others.