Author Archives: Kate Barbera and Emily Davis, Time-Based Media Project

Program Notes: The Museum at the Dawn of the Video Age


Carnegie Museum of Art film and video program note from March/April 1988. Image: Department of Film and Video archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.

In December, Jonathan Furmanski, a media conservator at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, will be coming to Carnegie Museum of Art to present The CRT Canvas: Television and Materiality 1969-1983, a program dedicated to the first generation of video artists and early experimentation in the medium. He will give a talk on the cultural circumstances that gave rise to these pieces and he will address the challenges of preserving works with strong technological dependencies. As part of the program, he will be screening select pieces by Bill Viola, William Wegman, Alan Kaprow, Wolfgang Stoerche and other video artists. He will also be showing a fragment from Dan Grahm’s 1974 installation Continuous Present Past(s) and a rare gem from Cynthai Maughan.

His upcoming visit prompted us to start thinking about the history of video art at Carnegie Museum of Art and about the integration of this relatively new medium into the museum’s film department, which was known in its earliest years as the Film Section, and later as the new medium became more established, the Section of Film and Video and the Department of Film and Video. Curators at CMOA installed the first video artworks in the galleries in 1981 but had been gradually introducing it to museum goers in Pittsburgh for nearly a decade. As part of the Time-Based Media Project, we have been working to piece this history together, and in the process, we have found some fascinating information and made some exciting discoveries in the archive.

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Program Notes: Minding and Mining the Archives


Some of the more than 400 cubic feet of boxes, books, and other ephemera left behind when the Department of Film and Video closed in the early 2000s.

In September, we began working on an exciting new archival initiative at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA). In 2011, the museum received an AW Mellon grant to preserve and create access points for its time-based media artworks. The project has many components and one of them is the formation of the Department of Film and Video archive. The Department of Film and Video, which was active at CMOA beginning in 1970, was responsible for acquiring the majority of the time-based media artworks in the museum’s collection. By preserving its records, we are working to recover the valuable context in which the artworks were acquired and maintaining the department’s incredible legacy.

When the Department of Film and Video closed, it left behind an entire office of materials—everything from memos to installation photographs to projection equipment manuals. We have more than 400 cubic feet of boxes, books, and other ephemera. Just imagine about 400 banker boxes or the space inside a large walk-in closet. It is a huge body of records and its size is only matched by the value of its contents. The Department of Film and Video was one of the first of its kind in the country and it helped usher in a whole new era for moving image programming at museums and film venues across the country.

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