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Robert Frank's depth of vision


Masters of conceptual art
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Who is a formalist? Name me a really... somebody who's considered a formalist.

[Q] Well, I... there's no one I think who's considered a formalist who wouldn't argue that they weren't. They would argue they weren't. You'd say Michael Snow is a formalist.

Michael Snow, Michael Snow, I think Michael Snow is a minimalist or working with content that is very, very sort of mental and abstract mental. In other words, his form... he's not a formalist in a sense because there is a form which some people would name in Michael Snow's case as formalism is determined by the content, by the sub... and the content is very mental, it's very just like ideas put into certain shape. His photography, his films with, of course, much of it in some cases, of course, like The Central Region; it's a very, very concrete content and subject. You cannot... you can call it any name, but it's not formalist. It's, again, determined by a certain idea that how he wants to put that subject onto that screen. I wouldn't call him a formalist, I would argue against, okay, the minimal or... or Yoko Ono, I think. Yoko Ono's greatest achievement will always remain her... her first little book with maybe one hundred or so I think its called Grapefruit little suggestions and that is... what it's called? It's not min... my head is going. I... Gregory, where are you?

[Q] Yeah.

No, conceptual. Yoko Ono's greatest contribution will always remain conceptual art, just little ideas like now you look at the sky for five minutes, look at the clouds now, whereas her technology, her subject and form, you see, that's where it becomes... when you go into conceptual art, but before that we can, with minimal, you know... we still have everything very clearly defined and you can talk about content and form and formalism. No, I'm not a formalist. I'm a romantic, basically.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), Lithuanian-born poet, philosopher and film-maker, set up film collectives, the Anthology Film Archive, published filmzines and made hundreds of films, all contributing to his title as 'the godfather of American avant-garde cinema'. He emigrated to America after escaping from a forced labour camp in Germany in 1945.

Listeners: Amy Taubin

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor for "Film Comment" magazine and "Sight and Sound" magazine. Her book, "Taxi Driver", was published in 2000 in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Her chapter on "America: The Modern Era" is part of "The Critics Choice" published by Billboard Press, 2001, and her critical essays are included in many anthologies, mostly recently in "Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank" published by Scalo.

She wrote for "The Village Voice" weekly from 1987 into 2001 both as a film and a television critic. She also wrote a column for the "Village Voice" titled "Art and Industry" which covered American independent filmmaking. Her first weekly film criticism job was at the "SoHo Weekly News". Her writing has also appeared in "Art Forum", the "New York Times", the "New York Daily News", the "LA Weekly", "Millennium Film Journal", "US Harpers Bazaar" and many other magazines. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.

She started her professional life as an actress, appearing most notably on Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and in avant-garde films, among them Michael Snow's "Wavelength", Andy Warhol's "Couch", and Jonas Mekas' "Diaries, Notebooks and Sketches".

Her own avant-garde film, "In the Bag" (1981) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Friends of Young Cinema Archives in Berlin.

She was the video and film curator of "The Kitchen" from 1983-1987.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from N.Y.U. in cinema studies. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in both the undergraduate and the MFA graduate programs, and lectures frequently at museums, media centers, and academic institutions. In 2003, she received the School of Visual Arts' art historian teaching award.

Tags: Grapefruit, Michael Snow, Yoko Ono

Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010