Checkerboard Film series
Photo © Peter Ash Lee/courtesy Checkerboard
Liz Diller, Ric Scofidio, and Charles Renfro are featured in a film being shown at the National Gallery.

This week, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., will host the first retrospective of documentaries by the Checkerboard Film Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1979 to produce, distribute, and archive films that document American artists and the artistic process. As the title suggests—“Celebrating New American Architecture and Design: A Salute to Checkerboard Film Foundation”—the retrospective will put the spotlight on the organization’s architecture documentaries, with 10 films screened over a two-day period.

The first screening, on July 6, comprises films about Vincent Scully, Daniel Libeskind, Kieran Timberlake, Robert A.M. Stern, and Studio Gang Architects. On July 7, the museum will present films on Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Thom Mayne, and Rick Joy, along with the film “Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line.”

In most cases, the films include “a tour of the building with the architect, along with additional segments of the architect discussing his or her work as a whole,” says Edgar Howard, a filmmaker who founded Checkerboard. The films also feature interviews with clients. “This comprehensive view is an invaluable way to experience the process and the vision that goes into these projects,” Howard says. 

Howard started Checkerboard after he completed two films — the first, on the artist Brice Marden, in 1977, followed by a 1978 documentary on photographer Duane Michals — and realized there was a need to expand the reach and appreciation of these types of cinematic works.

In the past three decades, Checkerboard has produced nearly 50 films and videos that document “artists who are making unique contributions to the American arts.” In addition to architects, subjects include painters (Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, and Sol LeWitt), writers (James Salter and Billy Collins), and photographers (Rudy Burckhardt, Jan Groover, and Harry Callahan).

More information can be found on the Checkerboard Film Foundation website,


Editor’s Note: Architectural Record deputy editor Suzanne Stephens is an architectural adviser to Checkerboard.