The Film Collection – On view through March 2014

| June 28th, 2013, 9:36 PM

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.

July 9–August 4, 2013

Kenneth Anger

American, b. 1930

Three 16mm films transferred to video:

Fireworks, 1947

Black-and-white, sound; 15 min.

Puce Moment, 1949

Color, sound; 7 min.

Eaux D’Artifice, 1953

Black-and-white, sound; 13 min.

A compilation of Anger’s early “Magick Lantern Cycle” films and an entrée to the occult filmmaker’s mesmerizing and dangerous cinematic world, born out of his fascination with the classical Hollywood “dream machine” and its decadent underbelly.

August 6–September 1, 2013

George Kuchar

American, 1942–2011

Hold Me While I’m Naked, 1966

16mm film transferred to HD video

Color, sound; 15 min.

A loosely autobiographical camp classic, featuring Kuchar himself as a beleaguered small-time filmmaker trying to produce a Hollywood romance.

September 3–29, 2013

Bruce Conner

American, 1933–2008

Three 16mm film works transferred to HD video:

A MOVIE, 1958

Black-and-white, sound; 12 min.

Cosmic Ray, 1962

Black-and-white, sound; 5 min.

Permian Strata, 1969

Black-and-white, sound; 4 min.

A compilation of Conner’s hugely influential found-footage assemblages, which weave together everything from atomic blasts, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, and tank warfare to Mickey Mouse, pinup girls, and the apostle Paul.

October 1–20, 2013

Paul Sharits

American, 1943–1993

Ray Gun Virus, 1966

16mm film

Color, sound; 14 min

A transfixing, must-see-in-person “flicker” film that distills the cinematic experience to projected light and color patterns, allowing “the viewer to become aware of the electrical-chemical functioning of his own nervous system.”

October 22–November 3, 2013

Stan Brakhage

American, 1933–2003

Mothlight, 1963

16mm film

Color, silent; 4 min.

Created using clear packing tape, which Brakhage used to collect moth wings, flower petals, leaves, dust, and other ephemeral natural debris, this is a beautiful and brief meditation on life and death from one of the masters of “visionary” film.

November 5–24, 2013

Robert Nelson

American, 1930–2012

Oh Dem Watermelons, 1965

16mm film

Color, sound; 11 min.

Originally produced as a theatrical intermission for the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s satirical A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, Nelson’s irreverent film puns on the watermelon’s place in old black stereotypes, with a soundtrack by Steve Reich based on a Stephen Foster song.

November 26–December 22, 2013

Robert Breer

American, 1926–2011

Two 16mm films transferred to video:

Fuji, 1974

Color, sound; 8 min.

Gulls and Buoys, 1972

Color, sound; 8 min.

Two dreamy, hand-drawn and rotoscoped films by a pioneer in the fields of animation and kinetic art, depicting a voyage through Japan and impressions of the seashore.

December 24, 2013–January 19, 2014

Gordon Matta-Clark

American, 1943–1978

Three 8mm or 16mm films transferred to video:

Splitting, 1974

Color and black-and-white, silent; 11 min.

Bingo, 1974

Color, silent; 9 min.

Conical Intersect, 1975

Color, silent; 18 min.

Three of Matta-Clark’s “building cut” documentation films, which extend the artist’s radical investigations of architecture, space, and deconstruction.

January 21–February 16, 2014

Hollis Frampton

American, 1936–1984

Winter Solstice, 1975

16mm film transferred to video

Color, silent; 33 min.

Filmed at Homestead Steel Works outside of Pittsburgh, a mesmerizing abstract composition of glowing furnaces, sparks, and molten flows.

February 18–March 16, 2014

Owen Land (a.k.a. George Landow)

American, 1944–2011

New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops, 1976

16mm film transferred to video

Color, sound; 10 min.

Constructed around a found soundtrack in which a female voice administers an IQ test, this witty, self-referential film tracks the effects of the soundtrack on a male examinee, who passes through a Chinese box of impossible perspectives into the filmmaker’s imagination.



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