Anthony Schmalz “Tony” Conrad (March 7, 1940 – April 9, 2016) was an American avant-garde video artist, experimental filmmaker, musician, composer, sound artist, teacher, and writer. Conrad indelibly altered the course of contemporary art and thought. Born in New Hampshire, he earned a mathematics degree from Harvard and soon became a central figure in the 1960’s New York scene. From a young age he stretched the limits of music and performance, drafting post-Cagean music compositions and text pieces—and collaborating with artists such as Henry Flynt, Jack Smith, and, with the legendary drone ensemble Theatre of Eternal Music, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and John Cale. By the mid-’60s, Conrad had begun to focus his attention on film; in 1966, he created The Flicker, a stroboscopic masterpiece which stands as one of the first examples of structural film.
From then on, Conrad’s socially-engaged multimedia works—such as Straight and Narrow and Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain —continued to investigate and push the boundaries of art, performance, authorship, viewership, discipline, and power. In the 1970’s, after releasing his first studio album, Outside the Dream Syndicate (with Faust), he turned his attention to new media—working alongside artists such as Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton while a professor State University of New York at Buffalo. In the ‘80s, he made films with, and proved a major influence on a younger generation of artists, namely Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Ever-restless, Conrad injected each strain of his polymathic practice with unique conceptual and political force as well as a sense of humor. Fueling a resurgence of interest in his music in the mid-1990s, Conrad focused once again on music, releasing Slapping Pythagoras, Four Violins , and Early Minimalism Volume One. Accompanied by incisive texts by Conrad, these albums helped to cement his place as a crucial and singular figure in the history of minimal music. He performed and screened his films at forward-thinking festivals and institutions throughout the world, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and Anthology Film Archives. His films and artworks are in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Albright-Knox Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and the ZKM Center for Art and Media, among others.
Before his passing in 2016, Tony performed with Faust at Berlin Atonal Festival; he also created solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Wien and 80WSE, New York University, as well as at Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne. The life of this radical and thoughtful visionary has been documented in TONY CONRAD: COMPLETELY IN THE PRESENT which World Premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival July 1, 2016 where he was also honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The documentary has been screening at such festivals as Viennale, Leeds International Film Festival, DOC NYC, International Film Festival Rotterdam and esteemed museums including the TATE Modern in London, the National Gallery of Art in D.C., Los Angeles’s Broad Museum and San Francisco’s Cinematheque.