Midtown Rushes

The MOMA returns: A re-opening bash with Godard, Scorsese, and an avant-garde A-list

Programmed to celebrate the museum's midtown rebirth, MOMA's two-month-long Premieres series feels like a supersized international film festival spliced with art-world DNA. The slate offers the first local screenings of features such as Martin Scorsese's The Aviator and Wes Anderson's The Life Acquatic With Steve Zissou; the latest from neo-cinephile heavyweights Hirokazu Kore-eda and Alexander Sokurov; and freshly restored films by Kubrick, Fassbinder, and Preminger. But the total lineup of nearly 200 works also leans far into experimental realms, including numerous avant-garde films, video art, movies by gallery artists, and live performances.

According to senior curator Laurence Kardish, the eclecticism is not merely the result of MOMA's numerous interests—more than nine curators were involved—but meant as a statement on where the art of the moving image is headed. "The nature of cinema is changing rather radically," says Kardish, "and we wanted to reflect that. Because there are a number of gallery artists who are now working in moving-image media and there are a number of filmmakers who have moved onto galleries. We wanted to incorporate these trends within this exhibition."

Premieres will run entirely within the Titus theaters, newly equipped with digital projection, but the museum has also added a second-floor gallery for non-theatrical projects. "It's an expansion of our curatorial activities," Kardish says of the new Yoshiko and Akio Morita Gallery. "It's designed for the exhibition of contemporary work by artists working in new media." Concurrent with Premieres, the Morita Gallery will launch with installations by Eve Sussman, Rodney Graham, and Hollis Frampton.

Squeezing metaphysical meaning: Moments
photo: MOMA
Squeezing metaphysical meaning: Moments

The world premiere that kicks off the series, Jean-Luc Godard's Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma (the first of four screenings is on November 21) fittingly provides a stylistic meditation on transformations in visual technologies. A feature-length 35mm synthesis of Godard's miniseries-long essay, Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Moments Choisis fuses video and film technologies to ponder said history through intricate, strobing edits, retro-contempo masks and irises, and colorful image overlays. But within the cross-disciplinary context of Premieres, Godard's film betrays an aesthetic conservatism running counter to its multimedia flash: The director's insistence on squeezing metaphysical meanings from a slender, canonical thread of Euro-American auteurs now feels dustily provincial and conceptually blinkered—though perhaps intentionally so, in dry parody of contemporary cinephilia's neck-cramped backwards-glance.

In starkly ultra-minimal contrast, Abbas Kiarostami's soul-refreshing DV feature Five (November 21) succeeds through impossibly simple means. Nothing but a series of unbroken seashore sequences, Five pushes the limits of cinematic form into an experience of the primary pleasures of seeing and hearing; the stationary composition encourages the viewer to sink into the video's rich, rippling environmental soundtrack. The shift from day to night and back is narrative enough, and the total effect engenders reflection upon the essentially sensorial nature of contemplation. Four works by Ernie Gehr (November 24) similarly grant gifts of slowed-down time. Transferred from silent rolls of film surreptitiously shot in downtown Manhattan in the '70s, Gehr's rescued bits of street-level history involve their own brand of structural anthropology, as well as gentle being-there moments: In one long time-lapsed shot, light-forms seep across a tenement's screen-window.

A more recent bit of history seeps into Triage (November 22), a collaboration between Michael Snow, Carl Brown, and John Kamevaar. Snow and Brown independently created one film each for a double-screen projection, shown with Kamevaar's audio collage, which dips into moments from the 9-11 confusion archives. The results come close to random-chance Dada: Brown's contribution is a hand-processed loop of cable-car images, awash in ink blossoms; Snow's half rushes lightning-fast through images of various life-forms in an eye-straining evolutionary pastiche. The work's punning title suggests Snow's overarching conceptual touch.

Those interested in a peek at media art's Gen-Y future may wish to sample computer jockey Cory Arcangel's works (November 27), which includes his lovingly raw Dance Dance Revolution video 414-3-RAVE-95, made with Frankie Martin. An unabashed bit of nerdgasmic energy mocked up with monochrome MacPaint psychedelia, Arcangel and Martin's ADD DDR reminds us that cinema's wildest possibilities may yet be found in technologies that are so five minutes ago.

 
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