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New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), celebrates creativity, openness, tolerance, and generosity and welcomes diverse cultural, artistic, social, and political positions. MoMA is committed to sharing the most thought-provoking modern and contemporary art and enables the viewers to explore the art, ideas, and issues of modern time.
Rajendra Roy, Chief Film Curator of MoMA with a strong connection to Film Programming in Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was present during the TIFF 2019 festival.
Rajendra Roy (Centre)/Facebook
Asha Bajaj, IBNS Canada's Special Canadian Correspondent, and Editor of Canadian-Media had a chance to discuss with him the chief characteristics and innovative features of MoMA.
It has come to my knowledge that New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) would be reopening on October 21, 2019. I would like to learn from you the history of the museum, its salient features that reflect the modern art of the museum. I would also like to know the different elements of modern art portrayed in the museum.
When and by whom was the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) founded and when and why was it closed? Who was responsible for its development?
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was opened by three patrons Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Mary Quinn Sullivan and Lillie P. Bliss. They were in the process of collecting paintings, watercolours, and drawings by a number of contemporary American artists in 1925, at that time called New Art which is now called Modern Art. It was not really an institution at that time to celebrate that type of art in New York. Their devotion to modern art led to the founding of MoMA in 1929.
MoMA closed on June 15, 2019 to reimagine and reinvent the practices of displaying like disciplines together and replace them with mixed painting, sculpture, film, photography, works on paper, and other mediums on gallery space on the second, fourth, and fifth floors. MoMA also lays emphasis on incorporating artists representative of more diverse geographies and backgrounds.
Rockefeller hired a director Alfred Barr. Barr’s vision for the museum was one that is inclusive of all the modern visual arts — architecture and industrial design, photography, and theater design, as well as the traditional fields of painting and sculpture, drawings and prints and films. The film, at that time was a new art form which was only been invented a few decades ago. It is one of the very few museums in the world which included film as an art form.
When did the introduction of the film as an art form in the museum actually take place? Give a brief description of the development of the film element in MoMA.
The element of the film was introduced in the museum in the year 1935. Soon it was followed by the formalization of MoMA’s Film Library Corporation and the first permanent building as part of the foundation of the Museum called Cinema was built. The Film Library Corporation was established for the purpose of assembling a collection of motion picture films suitable for illustrating the important steps historically and artistically in the development of motion pictures from their inception. This building grew over the years as the film as an art form progressed. The feature of film in the museum became prolific with many galley settings. The moving image has been embraced by the museum in all its forms.
The Circulating Library was established in 1935 to collect films to illustrate the historic and artistic development of motion pictures as well as to establish the medium as a major art form. Initially, the Circulating Library included a collection which was available to colleges, museums, and other educational institutions at reasonable rates. Since then it expanded to include regional and international film festivals, individual collectors, and other film organizations. The Circulating Library also provided access to works by independent filmmakers, works that would otherwise not be readily available.
In recent years the Circulating Library has strengthened certain areas and to make available more titles to a wider film community including important works by and about artists such as Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Yoko Ono, and Robert Smithson.
The Circulating Film Library has grown to over 1,200 titles covering the history of film from the 1890s to present and also incorporates the Circulating Video Library, an important collection of work by leading video artists. MoMA’s earlier holdings of silent films soon began to include contemporary documentaries, animation, and avant-garde and independent cinema. MoMA also took the responsibility to make these available to viewers who otherwise would not have the opportunity to see them.
Please tell us about the salient features of this museum from its founding till the current reimagination of the Museum.
Upon his appointment as the first director, Barr’s innovative plan for the conception and organization of the Museum resulted in a multi-departmental structure based on varied forms of visual expression. The exhibitions he curated in the early years were based on loaned works of art. With the passing of time, Barr envisioned a permanent collection at MoMA, one consisting not only of painting and sculpture but also of photography, film, and architecture. He subsequently established six different curatorial departments: Painting and Sculpture, Drawings, Prints and Illustrated Books, Film, Photography, and Architecture and Design.
The unconventional and innovative exhibitions of MoMA served to broaden the definition of art as well as the mission of a 20th-century museum and converted it into a forum for cultural dialogue.
The department of architecture was established in 1932, followed by the film which was established in 1935. Photography was established in 1940. Barr also introduced aesthetic and philosophy elements of Bauhaus (Germany) to the American public. Bauhaus was a school of design, architecture, and applied arts that existed in Germany from 1919 to 1933. The Bauhaus trained students equally in art and in technically expert craftsmanship.
In 1939 MoMA opened in a permanent, a new building located at 11 West 53 Street in New York with an entirely new type of museum architecture. Today, these departments include architecture and design, drawings and prints, film, media and performance, painting and sculpture, and photography.
One of the most prominent features of the museum at the time of its foundation that each art form had its own separate department. There were six departments, such as sculpture, design, paintings, films, photographs, and drawings and prints and films. Now we have media and performance. Each department could be celebrated individually. This isolated all the departments. For example, the department of painting displayed only paintings primarily by themselves maybe with sculpture but not combined with photographs. As time passed the segregation of the celebration of the different departments became narrower. The development took place by replacing the representation of each art form individually by a chronological method which included all of its art forms. For MoMA, it is a radical shift and took several years of planning to have a new installation of the interrelation of all the departments.
What inspired you to be a curator of this museum? Please highlight a few features of your work before you started as a curator?
I was very privileged when MoMA offered me the position of Chief Film Curator 13 years ago. I had been involved for many years with film festivals and had been coming each year to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. MoMA loved my ideas about Modern Art and what my generation could bring to MoMA and how our generation could engage in shifting the dialogue of art from different cultures like Indian diaspora, Africa, Asia etc. For me, it was a dream come true.
From 1995 to 2002, I worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in a variety of positions in the Film and Media Arts Program, collaborating with curators to coordinate film, video, and new media exhibitions in New York, Bilbao, and Berlin. From 1996 to 2000, I was Executive Director of the MIX Festival, one of the world’s largest experimental film and video festivals.
From 2002-2007 I served as Director of Programming and Artistic Director for the Hamptons International Film Festival. I became the sole American member of the Competition Selection Committee of the Berlin International Film Festival from 2004 to 2008. I still serve as an advisor to that festival.
In 2007, I joined The Museum of Modern Art as Chief Curator of Film, a role in which I lead the Museum’s year-round initiatives to exhibit and preserve works from its collection of about 27,000 titles.
Coming to some personal questions, briefly highlight your background, your education and qualifications? Does your education in any way reflect your present position?
My father, a sociology professor, immigrated to the United States in the mid-60s. My mother is from California. I have one sister. I graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with a BA (1994) in political science and French literature and have contributed to Empire, Frieze, indieWIRE, Moving Pictures, Turbulences Video, and other publications.
My parents wanted me to become a lawyer, but I chose to learn film programming when I moved to New York to become a musician and an actor. My sister also moved from the traditional path and became a fashion designer. I had no formal education in film programming but I learnt about it by practice. My knowledge about filming was self-invented.
I am more interested in the diversity of background. We have shifted from analogue to digital media production. While waiting for a break, I volunteered for Mix – an annual gay and lesbian experimental film festival held at the Anthology Film Archive in New York's East Village. From 1996 to 2000, I was Executive Director of the MIX Festival, one of the world’s largest experimental film and video festivals. It worked out for me because I met a lot of filmmakers and developed film connections. John Hanhart, a senior film curator at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, became my mentor. Eventually, in 2000, I joined Guggenheim as a film program manager. I headed the programming of the prestigious Hamptons International Film Festival before joining MoMA in 2007. Thus, I learnt film programming by doing rather than by studying.