MoMA’s Back

On Film / The Daily — Oct 21, 2019
Renée Falconetti in Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Museum of Modern Art sprang a happy surprise on New Yorkers yesterday when it opened the doors to its newly renovated and expanded campus for a free preview. Seven thousand visitors wandered through the rehung permanent collection and twenty-four new galleries. Officially reopening today, MoMA has not only spent four months and $450 million adding 47,000 square feet of exhibition space, it’s also tweaked its overall mission so that it now “finally, if still cautiously,” as the New York TimesHolland Carter puts it, reveals itself to be “a living, breathing twenty—first-century institution, rather than the monument to an obsolete history—white, male, and nationalist—that it has become over the years since its founding in 1929.”

Just as significantly, “walls between disciplines, once firm, are down.” Carter finds that the “prevailing style is mix-and-match, with sculpture, painting, design, architecture, photography, and film bunking in together.” Surely to the delight of cinephiles, the parallel histories of modernism and cinema, running from the late nineteenth century to the present, are at long last recognized as inextricably intertwined. “Some twenty-five moving-image works from the permanent collection can be found across the museum’s six floors, as well as another two dozen video works from the Media and Performance Department,” notes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. He’s spotted work by Maya Deren, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Tati, and an entire screening room dedicated to films by Andy Warhol. For Ben Davis at artnet, one of the highlights is “the sense of unsettled innovation conveyed by the Early Photography and Film gallery, which puts the whole era’s fine-art experiments with fragmentation into multimedia context.”

Frieze’s Andrew Durbin suggests that “the new building reflects a Manhattan-style hard-edge realism, itself a modernist impulse to constantly strive for newness, often in the name of simplicity and mass appeal.” NYT architecture critic Michael Kimmelman finds it “smart, surgical, sprawling, and slightly soulless . . . You may feel like you’re entering an Apple store.” The curation, though, has been scoring high marks across the board. “Sumptuous, luxurious, and wisely conceived” is Andrew Russeth’s verdict at ARTnews. Noting that the team of five curators will be reinstalling a third of the permanent collection every six months, the NYT’s Roberta Smith adds that “each gallery has its own character, distinct from its neighbors; its own jolts and disruptions.”

Celebrating what he calls “the greatest collection of modern art on the planet” and offering a quick and engagingly subjective history of modernism, Vulture’s Jerry Saltz notes that when MoMA reopened after a renovation in 2004, “only five percent of the art on view in the permanent collection was by women. Today, the museum estimates that twenty-eight percent of the works on view are by women, and twenty-one percent by artists outside of Western Europe, the U.S., and Canada—that’s gigantic for MoMA, modernism, and art.” For the New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl, “Masterpieces dulled by overfamiliarity in an account that had become as rote as a college textbook spring to second lives by being repositioned.”

The exhibition Private Lives Public Spaces, now on view through July 5, focuses on the history of home movies. In the NYT, Ben Kenigsberg notes that it would take around forty-seven hours to watch all of the films being projected on the 102 screens. Curator Ron Magliozzi has “suggested that amateur movies can constitute a ‘record of diversity and difference’ that Hollywood films of the equivalent time periods often worked to obscure,” writes Kenigsberg.


Films are screening in the theaters again, too. The series Iris Barry’s History of Film reconstructs the programming of the first curator of the MoMA Film Library—now the Department of Film—which was founded in the summer of 1935. Running to the end of the year, the series offers work by such foundational giants as F. W. Murnau, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Victor Sjöström, and Josef von Sternberg. Also opening this week are Vision Statement: Early Directorial Works, featuring films by Satyajit Ray, Jane Campion, Jia Zhangke, Maren Ade, and Cristian Mungiu; Currents: Re-Viewing Cineprobe, 1968–2002, which “traces the vibrant history of artist’s cinema and independent film in MoMA’s collection”; and Hidden Histories, a selection of “buried treasures and curator favorites.”

Rajendra Roy, the museum’s chief curator of film, tells Eric Kohn that he’s “been saying for a while now that MoMA will be the last place in New York—and even the world—where you will be able to see a film as the artist intended it. We will dedicate ourselves to showing film on film, to having a cinematic experience that’s rich and full and authentic as possible. I hope that’s in seventy years or never, but whenever that comes, MoMA will be the last place, if that’s what we need to be.”

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