Sally Dixon’s office was, in a word, stunning. Back in the early 1970s, before the present-day museum of art building was constructed, Carnegie Institute was sorely in need of extra space. So when Dixon launched the museum’s film program in 1970, the attic space above the Carnegie Lecture Hall (now part of the Carnegie Library’s main branch in Oakland) was offered to her and she transformed it into an office. With large windows and a mishmash of scavenged furniture and knick-knacks—not to mention the beautiful letterpress posters on the walls, many of which we have in our archive—it became an important meeting place for filmmakers, curators, and scholars from near and far. This Pittsburgh Press article, dated February 8, 1970, offers a vivid description of Dixon’s office, with the reporter playfully referring to its decor as “Early Museum Basement.”
On this day in April of 1970, Jonas Mekas became the first filmmaker to visit Pittsburgh as part of Carnegie Museum of Art’s brand new film program (also known as the Film Section, the Section of Film and Video, and the Department of Film and Video). Film curator Sally Dixon invited him to screen selections from his films and talk about his ventures in experimental cinema in New York. Mekas was the first of many non-narrative filmmakers to visit the museum (names like Robert Breer, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubekla, and James Broughton are common in our Program Notes), but more than any other film or video artist, he set the tone for moving image programming at CMOA.
Next Thursday, Andrew Lampert, Curator of Collections at Anthology Film Archives, will be visiting Carnegie Museum of Art to present Towering Turrets of Tomorrow Land: The Films and Writings of George Kuchar. Lampert’s visit is part of our ongoing DoubleExposure series, in which curators, artists, archivists, and experts come to CMOA to consult on our Time-Based Media Project and present on a topic in their wheelhouse. Lampert will be discussing his recent book on George Kuchar, The George Kuchar Reader (Primary Information, 2014); reading excerpts from the filmmaker’s personal notebooks, and showing five rarely seen 16mm works: Eclipse of the Sun Virgin (1967, 15 min.), Power of the Press (1977, 16 min.), Forever and Always (1978, 20 min.), and Yolanda (1981, 22 min.).
George Kuchar was among the many artists who visited the museum to screen and discuss films during the 1970s and 1980s. He was well-known for his campy, sardonic style, and today his name is synonymous with the development of US experimental film, especially the camp genre. Kuchar began making films as a child with his twin brother Mike and continued creating throughout his life, producing a body of nearly 350 films and videos. His art is often comical but ingenuous in its criticism of culture and daily life. Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), which is perhaps his best-known work, depicts the dilemmas of an independent filmmaker as he attempts to film his lead actress naked while she resists his demands. Like his other films, it is self-reflective and critiques the artificiality of the filmmaking process. Kuchar was also well-known for his ability to produce art on little or no budget, and he helped generate a whole new genre of independent, low-budget movie-making—think YouTube and amateur film on the Internet. In preparation for Lampert’s program next week, we dug into the Department of Film and Video archive at CMOA to find artifacts from George Kuchar’s time in Pittsburgh and found some wonderful pieces of his legacy tucked away in our records.