Finding Aid for the Department of Film and Video Archive

Finding Aid for Department of Film and Video Archive

Unit ID:
1907-2009 [bulk 1970-2003]
Kate Barbera
200 linear feet of graphic material and textual records
230 linear feet of books and periodicals
1181 slides
173 audio and video recordings
2,000 digital files (178MB)
[Title of Item], [Date Created], Series [Number], Box [Number], Folder [Number], Department of Film and Video Archive, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA.


The archive consists of the records accrued by Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA)’s Department of Film and Video (1970–2003), also known as the Film Program, the Film Section, and the Section of Film and Video. It contains textual and photographic materials that document film and video programs, screenings, finances, exhibitions, grants, meetings, and myriad other activities. Items of significance include one-of-a-kind audio and video recordings of lectures and interviews with artists; letter correspondence with a number of well-known film and video artists such as Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton; photographs of artist screening events and workshops hosted by CMOA; and the Film and Video Makers Travel Sheet, a series of published directories that were integral to the dissemination of experimental film and video art in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States and abroad. The museum published the Travel Sheet monthly between 1973 and 1987, and CMOA is the only repository known to have every issue.

Biography and History

Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) established the Film Section (subsequently, the Section of Film and Video and the Department of Film and Video) in 1970, making it one of the first museum-based film departments in the country. As part of the first wave of museums to celebrate moving image work, CMOA played a central role in legitimizing film as an art form, leading a movement that would eventually result in the integration of moving image artworks in museum collections worldwide. The department’s active roster of programming—featuring historical screenings, director’s retrospectives, and monthly appearances by experimental filmmakers from around the world—was a leading factor in Pittsburgh’s emergence in the 1970s as “one of the most vibrant and exciting places in America for exploring cinema.” (Robert A. Haller, Crossroads: Avant-garde Film in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, 2005). The museum also served as a galvanizing force in the burgeoning field by increasing visibility and promoting the professionalization of moving image art through its publication of Film and Video Makers Travel Sheet (a monthly newsletter distributed to 2,000 subscribers worldwide) and the Film and Video Makers Directory (a listing of those involved in film and video production and exhibition) and by paying substantial honoraria to visiting filmmakers.

Sally Dixon, a Pittsburgh-based amateur filmmaker, came up with the idea for a film program at CMOA in 1969. She wanted to create a community where audiences could watch films, learn from independent filmmakers directly, and gain access to equipment necessary to produce work of their own. The program began as a limited, three-year venture but soon grew into a full-fledged, highly productive department.

The museum’s influential Visiting Filmmaker Series (1970-1984), presented artists such as Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, Malcolm LeGrice, Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, and Michael Snow to capacity audiences, and the supportive environment was such that several elected to make significant works while in Pittsburgh. The museum also acquired works by many of these artists, resulting in an extraordinarily rich collection of experimental films from the 1960s and 1970s, including Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (1961-1964), Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic (1957-1962), Bruce Conner’s Cosmic Ray (1962), Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), Frampton’s Nostalgia (1971), and Roger Jacoby’s Kunst Life (1976).

CMOA also began presenting video works in the 1970s, and collecting and exhibiting this medium began in earnest in the early 1980s with the opening of a dedicated video gallery in the museum’s permanent collection galleries. Important works acquired during this time include Nam June Paik’s Global Grove (1973), Peter Campus’s Three Transitions (1973), Vito Acconci’s Theme Song (1973), and Lynda Benglis’ Now (1973). Dara Birnbaum’s Will-‘o-the-Wisp, commissioned for the 1983 Carnegie International, was the first video installation acquired by the museum, followed by Bill Viola’s The Sleep of Reason, commissioned for the 1988 International.

In 1975, Sally Dixon left the department and William Judson, a film professor at the University of Pittsburgh, succeeded her as curator. During Judson’s tenure, the Film and Video Department continued to play an important role in Pittsburgh’s film community and cultural fabric. The department started screening foreign films, which became hubs for various immigrant populations throughout the city and the region. The museum also began collecting and exhibiting video artworks that were geared toward gallery presentation. One of the best known exhibitions, American Landscape Video: The Electronic Grove, opened in 1988. It featured seven video installation works by well-known artists like Rita Myers, Mary Lucier, Dara Birnbaum, Frank Gillette, Steina Vasulka, Bill Viola, and Doug Hall. It was a memorable and provocative show, playing with expectations around traditional landscape painting as well as representations of the changing cultural and physical landscape of the late 20th century.

In 2003, the Department of Film and Video was eliminated due to organizational realignment, and responsibility for caring for, displaying, and augmenting the collection passed to the Contemporary Art Department. Since then, CMOA has continued to commission, acquire, and present works in this medium, including Christian Jankowski’s Puppet Conference (2003, commissioned for Forum 51: Christian Jankowski), Kutlug Ataman’s Kuba (2004, co-commissioned for the 2004 Carnegie International), John Bock’s Meechfieber (2004, commissioned for the 2004 Carnegie International), Jesper Just’s Bliss and Heaven (2004), Sharon Lockhart’s Pine Flat (2005), Phil Collins’ the world won’t listen (2004-2007), Doug Aitken’s migration (empire) – linear version (2008, a version of which premiered in the 2008 Carnegie International), Cory Arcangel’s Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11, and Frances Stark’s My Best Thing (2011). It also augmented its representation of seminal works from the 1960s and 1970s by such artists as Bruce Naumann, Paul McCarthy, Nam June Paik, and Martha Rosler.