Museum of Modern Art Department of Film

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of the most popular museums showcasing modern and contemporary art across varying mediums. 

Like its extensive painting, sculpture, architecture and design holdings, MoMA’s Department of Film has an unparalleled collection. 

Comprised of over 22,000 titles on film and videos from the silent era to today, the collection represents diverse filmmaking practices worldwide. 

MoMA hosts regular film exhibitions, screenings, educational programs and a state-of-the-art theatre as a showcase. 

Early History of Museum of Modern Art Department of Film

A young photography librarian and film enthusiast named Iris Barry was hired in 1932 to establish the Film Library. 

Hence, this evergrowing Department of Flim began.

That same year, MoMA hosted one of its first film exhibitions, displaying set designs and storyboards from German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. 

Exhibitions on the production design of movies by Hitchcock and Warner Brothers soon followed.

Over the 1930s, Barry and her colleagues got copies of iconic films like The Great Train Robbery (1903), The Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Battleship Potemkin (1925). 

These were screened in regular showings open to the public and loaned to other cultural institutions. 

By 1939, MoMA owned hundreds of movies representing film pioneers worldwide.

Post-War Collection Growth

Post-War Collection Growth
Image: Moma.org

Demand for film showings continued growing rapidly. In 1949, MoMA appointed Iris Barry as the first Curator of the Film Library. 

With more staff and resources, efforts expanded dramatically to locate and obtain copies of artistically significant films for preservation and exhibition.

The post-war decades saw acquisitions of movie memorabilia, posters, photographs and screening equipment. 

By the 1960s, MoMA could finally afford to purchase numerous prints that had previously been extremely difficult to obtain.

Further, the technical capabilities improved with renovated screening spaces in the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate larger film showings.

Present Day Collection at Museum of Modern Art Department of Film

Present Day Collection at Museum of Modern Art Department of Film
Image: Moma.org

Decades of strategic collecting bestow MoMA’s film department with one of the strongest collections covering the entire history of cinema today. 

Nearly every major film movement, genre, director and historical milestone is represented by multiple important works.

Highlights of the permanent collection include:

Early & Silent Film: Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) by Georges Méliès, Suspense (1913) by Lois Weber

German Expressionism: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) by Robert Wiene

Soviet Montage: Battleship Potemkin (1925) by Sergei Eisenstein, Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by Dziga Vertov

French Cinema: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Hollywood Classics: City Lights (1931) by Charlie Chaplin, Only Angels Have Wings (1939) by Howard Hawks

International Classics: La Strada (1954) by Federico Fellini, Rashomon (1950) by Akira Kurosawa

Avant-Garde: Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Luis Buñuel, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) by Maya Deren

Animation: Fantasia (1940) by Walt Disney, Yellow Submarine (1968) by The Beatles

Contemporary Auteurs: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry; Spirited Away (2001) Hayao Miyazaki

Challenging Works: The Battle of Algiers (1966) by Gillo Pontecorvo, Dont Look Back (1967) by D.A. Pennebaker

The Moving Image Gallery

After the expansion in 2019, MoMA moved many of its cinema exhibits into one area- the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio for film, video and new media. 

The state-of-the-art Moving Image Gallery contains a beautiful double-height screening space for enjoying movies as they were meant to be seen.

This theater can screen all motion picture formats from 35mm to 4K digital cinema. 

This ensures today’s artists’ growing collection of analog and digital films can be displayed optimally.

Further, the David Geffen Wing’s new media galleries have interactive stations showcasing 3D, virtual reality, video games, and episodic content. 

As technology rapidly changes how movies are produced and watched, MoMA evolves its facilities to continue exhibiting groundbreaking film works.

Recent Exhibitions of MoMA Department of Films

Recent Exhibitions of MoMA Department of Films
Image: Moma.org

MoMA often introduced new genres and film flavors to audiences. Exposing them to lesser-known gems happens regularly through MoMA’s film exhibitions. 

Some recent standout shows include:

Auntie Fã: The Life and Cinema of Fã Zhōngwù

This is a retrospective display showcasing whimsical docu-films, fiction and Chinese folklore by less-known Chinese directors.

Illusions of Motion: Moving Images from the Beginnings of Film to Today

Traced artistic and technical evolutions in creating the illusion of motion from early optical toys through today’s high-frame rate blockbusters

Just Like the Movies: Early Film and Its Influence on Contemporary Art 

This showcase of early cinema techniques like superimposition and simulated movement has impacted art photography, painting, and sculpture today.

The Future of Film

The Future of Film
Image: Moma.org

At over 90 years old, MoMA’s film collection remains vital in understanding of cinema history and the future. 

As technologies transform filmmaking and film preservation practices, MoMA stays at the forefront.

In 2017, the museum launched an online portal called Cinéma Mon Amour. 

This digital archive provides streaming access to hundreds of cinematic works that scholarship had deemed historically note-worthy. 

Through its collection, screenings, exhibitions, acquisitions, and educational outreach, MoMA’s Department of Film continues to open viewers’ eyes to invisible or forgotten corners of world cinema. 

Featured Image: Moma.org

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