Kicked off the day early today and managed to get my way all the way downtown, over the Brooklyn bridge to Pier One where Anish Kapoor’s ‘Descention’ has been installed since the start of May. This monumental work, tucked into Brooklyn Bridge Park is typical of Kapoor is than it cleverly plays with elemental ingredients in a way that is both mesmerising and contemplative but also a big hit with the tourists. Win-win. The object in question in a circular pool, flush with a grassy knoll containing dark murky water. An unseen mechanism creates a terrifying whirlpool, rotating so powerfully that there is a chasmic vortex produced in the centre. The result is really scary, particularly with the subsonic rumble that is produced on the approach. It looks and feels a lot like someone has pulled some deep, subterranean plug and the world is being sucked away. Truck loads of fun despite it being an apocalyptic doom sculpture.
The Museum of the Moving Image
MOMI is out in Astoria, a fact that I ponder on the way out. Despite New York City becoming increasingly less Manhattan-centric, the fact that a museum of significance being relegated to the boondocks does raise a quarter of an eyebrow. In what was formerly the east coast home of Paramount Pictures, the museum has accepted visitors since the 1970s and was the only United States museum dedicated solely to motion picture arts and sciences at the time. The museum underwent a $67 million renovation in 2008 and reopened its doors in its current state in 2011. I enter through the missable mirrored doors into an expansive, clean, white foyer. It could be a relic of a set from 2001 A Space Odyssey. I purchase my ticket and am instructed to head upstairs to the galleries. Downstairs there is also a cinema but nothing screening anywhere near my time of arrival. I head up a dramatically angled white staircase and into the first cavernous room. Here, on loop they are screening Jim Henson’s ‘Time Piece’. Created by Henson in 1965 this experimental short film pays with rhythm and non-linear editing to present Henson himself as a kind of Everyman, stuck in the drudgery of the daily grind. It’s a darkly funny and quite bleak piece with the addition of Henson’s trademark sense of humour including, in this case a dancing chicken carcass/puppet. The position and space given to this exhibit is a beautifully warm welcome to MOMI’s galleries, particularly with the esteem that, I assume everyone holds Jim Henson in.
The rest of the museum is a fairly tired collection of ephemera from American movies and television including meticulously constructed set models (it was fascinating to see that drawings for The Silence of the Lambs), prosthesis, merchandise and costumes – all presented in a fairly traditional method with lengthy didactic panels. Further in, the ‘Tut’s Fever Movie Palace’ is a hastily painted, side show version of an Egyptian tomb incorporating a cinemaette that on my visit was full of school groups. Heading further upstairs a large room of arcade games from the 70s and 80s have been (for the most part) restored to the level of being functioning. Bafflingly, there is a change machine in the corner to convert your notes into coins – they’re so authentic you’ll still be paying, thank you very much. Pong was out of order.
No Pong for you.
Further along and there’s a super cool room full of television sets from the ages, the sheer number and variety of cathode ray tubes in all their wacky forms is awesome. The rest of this level is largely dedicated to the process of film making with exhibits dedicated to the process of film making from editing, a foley studio, a fun stop motion animation station and a series of three touch screens with a huge index of roles on a film shoot which you can browse, tap and supposedly read the definition of. I selected ‘second assistant director’ which crashed my machine only to hand on a blank white screen.
MOMI – interior (click to explore)
The Henson film certainly made this trip worth while but you certainly get the feeling that there is work to do at this museum. With the Australian Centre for the Moving Image having such a broad remit when it comes to the definition of ‘Moving Image’ including all forms of new and emerging digital media, MOMI is halted at a very particular point in time in both its collection and it’s mode of exhibition.
Digital engagement: Shamefully unresponsive website. Largely traditional exhibition displays however some stations, such as the stop motion animation desk allow digital tools to reveal the process of film making. Beyond the stop motion desk I would wager little has evolved here since the 2011 renovation.
The New Museum
Founded in 1977 by curator and art critic Marcia Tucker, the New Museum moved into its current, airy digs in 2007. The Japanese designed refurb is an iconic landmark on its Bowery location. The New Museum has no collection of its own however is dedicated to presenting an ongoing cycle of contemporary international art. The museums presents artists who have not explicitly hit the mainstream in the careers and therefore exhibits works that are challenging and explicitly fresh. I visit on a Thursday “pay what you want” day and am instructed to head up to the fifth floor and work my way down, an idea I am slowly warming to on this trip. The lift is out so I brave the stairs which feel like they go on forever as the soaring ceilings on each floor basically equate to two levels. Working down from level 5 the New Museum presents wildly different works on a floors in both form and content from moody paintings from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye to mixed media and video work from Kaari Upson – one such video work involving a manic house inspection in Los Angeles is downright hilarious in the subject’s aggressively paranoid questioning to the vendor about whether a stucco wall is in fact made of asbestos.
The book shop rocks. You can’t find that stuff on Amazon.
New Museum – interior (click to explore)
Next door but very much part of the New Museum is NEW INC., an incubator and co-working space for individuals and small organisations working, largely commercially in the cultural sector. This is fascinating for me as it is a similar model to our home at ACMI X in Melbourne. NEW INC director Julia Kaganskiy spoke with me on the same panel in St Louis at the American Alliance of Museums conference. ACMI X has only just put its toe into the water in terms of incubating work rather than just providing a co-working space so I’m fascinated to the the diversity and apparent success in the many organisations and individuals who live here. What’s totally different is their more fast-churn, alumni model rather than lock terms tenancies such as ours. This trip has made a strong connection between NEW INC and ACMI X that we’ll continue to forge.
Admission: Usually $18, because it was Thursday evening I paid 2 bucks.
Digital engagement: Totally depends what’s showing.