Call it MOMA Gramercy. Displaced by the multi-year reconstruction project, the Museum of Modern Art’s film and media program, which has been without a venue since May, reopens October 11 at the Gramercy Theatre, a 1930s movie house on East 23rd Street. MOMA inaugurates its new digs with “To Save and Project,” a 31-film program that showcases restoration work from around the world (through November 7). For the first edition of what will be a new annual series, rare selections include Indian master Satyajit Ray’s The Expedition, the original French version of Claude Chabrol’s Les Bonne Femmes, and the Vatican Film Archives’ Leone, the XIII, an 1895 document of Pope Leo XIII using a camera to bless the audience.
“Given that the museum is not just a venue for exhibitions, but also involved with restoration and preservation, we wanted to open with a program that was uniquely MOMA’s,” says senior curator Larry Kardish. “No other institution in this city could do this program, so this is a way of drawing attention to the full service of the art of cinema that the museum provides.” That “full service” is still lacking one vital element: MOMA’s Film Stills Archive, which remains largely out of use in Hamlin, Pennsylvania. “It’s a function of the move,” Kardish explains. “We’re quite peripatetic, and we will be for the next couple of years.”
When the museum returns to midtown in 2005, the film and media department will have the use of three new theaters (one more than before). Until then, all programs will screen at the Gramercy, with the exception of the “New Directors/New Films” series, which according to Kardish, will likely split screenings between the Gramercy venue and a site at Lincoln Center, co-sponsor of the festival. “It is a challenge being spread out in so many locations,” adds Kardish, “but that just goes with the territory of staying open through the expansion project.”