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Exit Interview: Sally Dixon Welcomes Bill Judson to CMOA

For the past few months, we in the Time-Based Media Project here at Carnegie Museum of Art have started to transcribe and catalog the A/V recordings contained in the Department of Film and Video archive. With 173 recorded conversations and lectures, featuring artists such as Yvonne Rainer, Paul Sharits, Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Albert Maysles, and Kenneth Anger, as well as film scholars like Annette Michelson and P. Adams Sitney, it’s a monumental undertaking. And while the recordings are somewhat rough in spots, the material is always rich with historical and scholarly value. For those interested in this fertile period in underground film, these recordings offer a fascinating window into the lives of an innovative and genre-defying group of filmmakers.

Of course these archival recordings aren’t limited to just filmmakers and scholars. CMOA film curators Sally Dixon and Bill Judson each appear on the recordings as well, asking questions, making comments, and occasionally sitting center stage. In last month’s installment of Program Notes, we shared an interview with Dixon in which she recounted the history of film in Pittsburgh. This month, we want to share a recording that features Dixon talking to Judson just as he was taking over at CMOA in 1975, and as Dixon was preparing to say farewell to Pittsburgh. Last month marked 40 years since Judson took over, and this recording offers fresh perspective on the energy and enthusiasm that these curators shared for both film and their work at the museum.

 

Dixon begins their conversation by announcing her resignation and by providing background on Judson, who was professor of film studies at the University of Pittsburgh before leading the museum’s Department of Film and Video. Dixon left CMOA in 1975 to pursue other projects, eventually moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she served as interim director of Film in the Cities (FITC). Bill Judson was hired to replace her in August of 1975.

The two curators seem agree on many of the topics they discuss, even finishing each other’s sentences throughout their conversation. They also interrupt each other frequently, as if unable to contain their excitement. They discuss Judson’s plans for the program and address some of the upcoming film events at the museum. They mention a new children’s film series and talk at length about an forthcoming visit from film scholar Annette Michelson, fresh from a tour of the Soviet Union. Michelson was just one of many artists Bill Judson welcomed to the museum during his tenure as curator from 1975 through the early 2000s.

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Sam Choi, Sally Dixon, and Bill Judson outside Carnegie Museum of Art, ca. 1975. The caption on the back reads, humorously: “Working on a travel sheet,” which was the monthly artist and venue directory produced by the Department of Film and Video between 1973 and 1987. Carnegie Museum of Art, Film and Video Department archive (photograph by Robert Haller).

One of the more compelling parts of the conversation is when Dixon and Judson discuss the correspondence, program notes, photographs, memorabilia, and A/V recordings accrued by Dixon and her cohorts during her five-and-a-half years at the museum. Dixon, who founded the Film Section (later renamed the Department of Film and Video) in spring 1970, collected a wealth of materials from the artists and filmmakers who visited the museum. These materials comprise the Department of Film and Video archive at CMOA, which the Time-Based Media Project is working to preserve and make accessible to the public.

It made me smile as I listened to each curator discuss their desire to provide public access to these great resources, calling them a “marvelous mine of information.” As Judson says, “one of the things that we want to do with this program is to use the program notes and the extraordinary lectures, that these outside lecturers give on the Director’s Series, as the basis for a series of ongoing publications that would be neat, concise treatments of the work of a particular filmmaker.” He then adds, “The continuing presence of these visiting independent filmmakers is a very, very rich source for”—a thought that Dixon finishes for him—“scholars.” At one point in their conversation, Judson even goes so far as to liken neglecting the materials to “burning a box of Monet letters.”

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Annette Michelson, Sam Choi, and Bill Judson in Carnegie Museum of Art Theater, ca. 1975. Carnegie Museum of Art, Film and Video Department archive.

Judson and Dixon understood the potential value of these resources for continued scholarship, and although Judson never published them as part of the series he discusses with Dixon, it’s encouraging that even in 1975 they recognized the possibilities. Dixon adds an interesting caveat as well, stating that she began recording the artists who visited CMOA in the hopes that someday they would be used for research and education.

This recording is affirming for those of us working on the Time-Based Media Project because our hopes are exactly in line with what the curators outlined 40 years ago. Our goal is to make these recordings, as well as the correspondence, artifacts, and memorabilia, available to the public. We hope that it will garner deeper appreciation of the moving-image art produced during this period and promote better understanding of the artists who created it. Our plan is to make these materials free and accessible on a dedicated website by the end of the year. Like Sally Dixon and Bill Judson, I’m looking forward to the ideas, understanding, and scholarship that will arise as a result.

Program Notes is a monthly series on the CMOA Blog that explores the preservation work being conducted as part of the Time-Based Media Project at Carnegie Museum of Art.