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.
Maggie’s Hong Kong, 2013. Architect: Frank Gehry. Photograph © Kalson Ho, Over and Over Studio.
Maggie Keswick’s personal experience with cancer led to the founding of Maggie’s Centres in Edinburgh now two decades ago. Of Scottish origin, the Keswick family has been involved in trading and business ventures in Southeast Asia since the mid-nineteenth century. Raised in both Britain and Hong Kong, where her father was chairman of Jardine Matheson, Maggie was one of those rare Europeans able to visit the historic sites of mainland China after the rise of communism.
This hybrid and privileged background informs the wonderful book that brought Maggie Keswick to the attention of architects, historians, and landscape enthusiasts in the late 1970s. The Chinese Garden was for many a revelatory exploration of the landscapes and pleasure grounds constructed across China for emperors and traders, traditions that are millennia-old yet then little known in the West. “Like the plans of Gothic cathedrals,” Maggie wrote in her preface, “Chinese gardens are cosmic diagrams, revealing a profound and ancient view of the world, and of man’s place in it.”
Still from Underground: The Corbis Image Vault, Part 1 of The Invisible Photograph © Carnegie Museum of Art.
For a few days back in late December 2013, a small group of us found ourselves 250 feet underground, exploring the subterranean expanse of Iron Mountain, a former limestone mine located in rural Western Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half’s drive north of Pittsburgh. You reach Iron Mountain on a windy road dotted with farmlands until you finally arrive at a nondescript parking lot and a guard station. Over 2,500 people work in this place, one of many Iron Mountain sites across the country, but you would never guess the immensity of it until you’re inside.
Here among data centers, governmental document storage facilities (including the National Archives and US Social Security), and vast collections of television and film celluloid reels (like Warner Brothers and Universal Studios), sits a repository of a very different kind of material. The Corbis Iron Mountain Archive houses over eleven million photographic negatives and glass plates from the Otto Bettmann Archive spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, and represents a significant glimpse into some of the most important historical moments captured by photographers both well-known and obscure. The fact that the collection was moved from an above-ground storage facility in New York City over ten years ago into the current underground “cold” storage gives a sense of its increasing importance. Bettmann himself had to smuggle his collection into the country after he was pushed out of Austria by the Nazis.
Greg Stimac, Mowing the Lawn (Chandler, AZ), 2005/2006. Courtesy of the artist.
In October of 2008, Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes opened in the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art. Organized by Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this exhibition examined the mythology of the American suburbs as a place of homogeneity and conformity. In his preface to the exhibition catalogue, Andrew Blauvelt, Senior Curator, Architecture and Design at Walker Art Center, detailed the dramatic transformation of the suburbs over the last three decades. As part of On This Day, our ongoing series that examines artworks, exhibitions, and events from the archives at Carnegie Museum of Art, we are pleased to present Blauvelt’s essay in its entirety. —Matthew Newton, Associate Editor
Sometime during the past fifty years, the United States became a suburban nation. Although the 2000 census confirmed that more Americans live in suburbs than in central cities or rural areas combined, the increasing isolation of the city became glaringly obvious in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns when maps charting the voting results county by county revealed a cascade of red flowing from the urban periphery into the surrounding countryside. The assumption that urban cores voted Democratic (blue) and suburban areas Republican (red) was evident in the last presidential election where ninety-seven of the one hundred fastest-growing counties voted for the GOP candidate. However, it’s not only the quantitative but also the qualitative measures that prove the suburb no longer lives in the shadow of the city. Long dominated by the city as its normative measure, today’s suburbia marches on, trying to leave the polis in its wake.
Carnegie Museum of Art film and video program notes from the 1970s. Image: Film and Video Department archive at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Earlier this year, the museum began working on the second phase of an A. W. Mellon grant-funded project to preserve, and make accessible, its time-based media collection holdings and related archival materials. Time-based media is a broad term referring to film, video, audio, digital, computer-based, or installation art with a specified duration and a dependency on changing technology. As media and equipment become obsolete, the artwork is increasingly at risk. Worldwide, conservators, preservationists, and archivists are working to protect these assets. The Time-Based Media Project at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) is part of this field-wide trend.
A great deal of work was accomplished in the first phase of the project, which started in 2011. We completed a thorough inventory of the collection, integrated new installation and acquisition documentation protocols into our existing procedures, and digitized key unique holdings for preservation and access. The project team also organized a three-day public symposium, A Collection of Misfits: Time-Based Media in the Museum, to address the challenges surrounding the preservation and presentation of time-based media artworks in a museum context.