New Film, Not Just New Architecture, At Renovated MoMA
by Wendy Mitchell
When the Museum of Modern Art reveals its renovated building to the public tomorrow, there will be — deservedly — of lot of hubbub about the impressive architectural changes, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi. After several years of construction and $425 million dollars in building costs, the museum’s 53rd Street building is now nearly doubled in size and completely reinvented architecturally. A 110-foot tall atrium, holding important works including Monet’s “Water Lilies” and Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk,” is truly gasp-inducing. For film lovers, there are equally important changes at the new MoMA. The building’s two subterranean Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters have been completely gutted and renovated with new furnishings and state-of-the- art projectors and sound, and the Museum’s second floor now houses its first media gallery for moving-image and sound works.
Fittingly for such a momentous relaunch, MoMA has planned a huge film program, the largest exhibition in the Museum’s history. The “Premieres” program will show nearly 200 film and media works, starting with tonight’s gala presentation of the world premiere of Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Moments choisis des Histoire(s) du cinema,” a meditation on cinema’s influence on the 20th century. Other highlights are too numerous to mention (visit moma.org for the full schedule) but all will be New York premieres (with some U.S. and world premieres). Just a few films of note include Abbas Kiarostami‘s “Five,” Kubrick‘s restored “Paths of Glory,” Xan Cassavetes‘ doc “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession,” Tracey Emin‘s “Top Spot,” Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll‘s “Whisky,” Renoir‘s “Diary of a Chambermaid,” Wes Anderson‘s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” Scorsese‘s “The Aviator,” and dozens upon dozens more features, docs, shorts, and experimental and animated works.
“It really does cover the whole history and culture of cinema,” says Laurence Kardish, senior curator in MoMA’s Department of Film and Media, who worked with a number of colleagues to plan the exhibition over the past several months. “We thought that while painting and sculpture and photography could do reinstallations of their galleries, we would not simply show the works from our permanent collection. Instead, we would note the relationship we have with the artists by asking to show their new works in our newly refurbished theaters.”
The Titus Theaters now have new 16mm, 35mm, and digital projectors, upgraded Dolby Digital Sound Systems, more speakers, new seats, carpeting, paint, and curtains, but for those of you who need a touch of the familiar, Kardish jokes, “the subway rumbling hasn t changed [in Titus 1].” When the midtown museum moved its collections to Queens as the 53rd Street location was renovated, MoMA relocated its film program to the shabby chic MoMA Gramercy theater on 23rd Street, from October 2002 to April 2004. The Gramercy’s bonus over midtown was its location, closer to schools and downtown art lovers. Kardish says that he hopes 53rd Street can attract that kind of crowd now. “We are hoping and expecting that 53rd Street will become a much livelier street in the evening,” he says, noting that a ground-level restaurant attached to the Museum will bring more traffic. MoMA now plans to do consistent and regular nighttime film screenings.
The second-floor Yoshiko and Akio Morita media gallery is one sign of the museum’s furthered commitment to moving images. “We feel that we do have a presence and it’s through the media arts that we’ve becoming more integrated into the museum,” Kardish says. “I think what the museum has done is to say that we are no longer just a museum of art between 1880-1980 but we’re also a contemporary art museum and we’re interested in what’s happening today. This fusion between the art and film worlds is bubbling along and we have to be prepared to go along with it.” Initial installations in that gallery include Li Yongbin‘s “Face 7,” a collection of Andy Warhol‘s “Screen Tests,” Eve Sussman‘s “89 Seconds at Alcazar,” and more. Elsewhere in the museum, moving-image works include Hollis Frampton‘s “Lemon,” Gary Hill‘s “Inasmuch as It Is Always Already Taking Place,” and Joan Jonas‘ “Songdelay.”
Of course, film isn’t a new interest at the Museum of Modern Art. The museum established a film program back in 1935, and showed films at schools and societies before MoMA’s building opened in 1939. It now has more than 22,000 film and media works in its collection. Upcoming film programs run the gamut: lunch lectures devoted to “Un Chien Andalou,” classes about Joseph Cornell’s Hollywood influences, family films, and a “Tweens” film series for ages 11-14. The Premieres series will run November 21-January 31, along with another retrospective, 112 Years of Cinema, which will show one film shown marking each year from 1893 to 2005. On opening day, films shot at MoMA, including Cassavetes’ “Shadows” and Woody Allen‘s “Manhattan,” will be shown for free.
Other upcoming film programs include a Miramax retrospective, a program of works by Louis Feuillade, a mid-career program devoted to Christopher Guest, and of course, favorite series such as the annual New Directors/New Films. It should be noted that while the museum has come under fire for its hefty new $20 admission fee, admission to films is only $10 and that film ticket stubs can be used later for reduced museum admission.
[ For more information, please visit: http://www.moma.org. ]