Archive Fever

Left: Filmmaker Albert Maysles. Right: Performa founder and director RoseLee Goldberg with artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla and Art in General executive director Anne Barlow.

“ARE YOU TECHNICOLOR?” Squeezing into my seat at a cramped table for Anthology Film Archives’s eighteenth annual Film Preservation Honors Dinner and fortieth-anniversary benefit concert at City Winery last Wednesday evening, I was unprepared for what seemed like an unusually abstract conversation starter. I felt fine, but this flamboyant-sounding descriptor might have been pushing it somewhat. As it turned out however, my tablemates—all employees of cineast video distributors the Criterion Collection—had been anticipating the arrival of a higher-up from the famed film production company. But they were graceful in disappointment, and once we had made our introductions, the elderly but reliably puckish figure of Jonas Mekas, Anthology’s beloved founding director, took to the stage.

Peering out from under a wide-brimmed hat, our host addressed the room in his heavily Lithuanian-accented English. “Our building was built as a prison,” he reminded us in reference to Anthology’s East Village digs, “so it will last for hundreds of years!” A typically dour Lou Reed, appearing immediately thereafter in the form of a black-and-white video projection, lent his more reserved support to the enterprise’s endurance. Next up was New York–based musician Richard Barone, who, in addition to his duties as official emcee, knocked out a few songs including Gotham standard “The Sidewalks of New York” and (presumably in deference to Reed) the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” But was he joking when he claimed that Mekas was responsible for introducing Andy Warhol to VU chanteuse Nico?

As I’m usually more at home in the museum and gallery world than among the great and good of avant-garde film, I’d been intrigued to note the name of Marina Abramović on the night’s bill. But while the Artist was Present, she wasn’t about to perform, instead introducing her 2005 video Balkan Erotic Epic. It was a courageous choice, given that watching villagers humping the ground and flashing the sky in an attempt to stimulate crops or ward off evil might not have been everyone’s first choice for dinner-and-a-movie combination. The lengthy series of award presentations that came next was more standard stuff, with scholar Vlada Petric, critic Tony Pipolo, and documentary-maker Al Maysles all picking up gongs, alongside emissaries from the Library of Congress and—there was our guy—Technicolor.

Another supporter appearing only in on-screen form was Harmony Korine, whose short film recounting his invention of “curb-dancing” garnered rapturous applause. (“One day it will rain down tap shoes,” predicted the former enfant terrible, “tap shoes across the universe.”) Idiosyncratic in a different style was David Amram, performing (with help from his son on bongos) the score for Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Jack Kerouac–narrated film Pull My Daisy. Adding an introduction tailored to the occasion, Amram knew his crowd but did, I am bound to report, veer into scat singing. As the horror unfolded (albeit with merciful brevity), words of warning from the Mighty Boosh’s Vince to his jazz-besotted cohort Howard came to me with renewed urgency: “Don’t start scatting—we don’t need scat at this point.” Even an endearingly chaotic turn from Icelandic folkie Ólöf Arnalds couldn’t quite erase the memory.

Left: MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey with Art in General board member Melinda Wang and curator Andria Hickey. Right: JD Samson with artist Emily Roysdon.

On Thursday evening it was Art in General’s turn to pull out all the stops, though they kept the musical diversion to a background buzz. The hook for the thirty-year-old not-for-profit’s shindig, held at Stephan Weiss Studio in the West Village, was a “double blind” silent auction. Ten nominators had been asked to select one artist each to shoot a roll of film that would remain undeveloped—and thus unseen—until purchased. Among the selectors were artist Spencer Sweeney, actor Alan Cumming, curator Dan Cameron, and dealer Janice Guy. The picks included artists Jeremy Deller, Matt Mullican, Shirin Neshat, and hard-partying musician Andrew W.K. (“What will his photos be of?” wondered one guest, aghast. “A gutter full of beer bottles?”).

As collectors hovered around the spotlighted bid forms, which in the absence of any visible artwork suggested a conceptual installation, White Columns director Matthew Higgs and I compared notes about the upcoming royal wedding back in our shared home country. The ever-loyal Brit swore he’d be up at 5:30 AM the following morning to catch the event as it happened; homegrown curator Amie Scally didn’t look quite so enthusiastic. I chatted too with architect Steven Learner, whose firm was responsible for the renovation of Art in General’s SoHo space in 2006, about his hand in the green redevelopment of tornado-flattened Greensburg, Kansas. Cocktails filled a pleasant hour or so, though preprandial announcements began on a sad note as we raised a silent glass to the memory of Ioana Nemes, a Romanian artist who had been in residence at the gallery when she died suddenly the week before.

After the meal and a blink-and-you’d-missed-it announcement of who’d won what—a tablemate acquired Tim Lee’s sequence of eighty 35-mm slides—I joined artists Jason Bailer Losh and Emily Roysdon, Art in General director Anne Barlow and board member Melinda Wang, Guy (clutching a large bunch of wild flowers), and a few others for an afterparty at the nearby Jane hotel. Arriving to discover another event already in full swing, we were diverted to the Rusty Knot, where a free jukebox and a deal on Tecate saw the remaining handful of celebrants through.