NEW YORK, NY.-
The establishment of The Museum of Modern Art
's Department of Film, founded as the Film Library, began in 1933, when Iris Barry, the Museum's first film curator, was challenged to organize a series of film programs to "test the waters" of public consumption. From May 10 through 24, 2010, MoMA honors Barry with Iris Barry: Re-View, an exhibition comprising films that Barry selected for a historic series of screenings at The Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut) from October 28 through December 30, 1934, many of which were later shown at MoMA. The exhibition, which also marks the 75th anniversary of the June 1935 founding of the Film Library, is organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.
Iris Barry: Re-View opens with the Best Picture Academy Award nominee She Done Him Wrong (1933), directed by Lowell Sherman and starring Mae West, which was a controversial acquisition to MoMA's collection, and almost singlehandedly undid the establishment of the MoMA Film Library, but was later hailed as a cinema classic. Other highlights of the exhibition are Charles Chaplin's original comedy short Easy Street (1917); D.W. Griffith's silent adaptation of the nineteenth century play, Way Down East (1920), starring Lillian Gish; Fritz Lang's Siegfried's Tod (1924), with organ accompaniment by Ben Model; Walt Disney's The Three Little Pigs (1933), which won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject; and F.W. Murnau's cinematic masterpiece and final film, Tabu (1931).
At the time of MoMA's founding in 1929, there were no dedicated film programs in U.S. cultural institutions. Film festivals, repertory movie houses, and academic degree programs in cinema studies had not yet been developed. Film culture consisted entirely of new studio releases. In response to a challenge by her peers, Barry presented 10 programs of film screenings under the title The Motion Picture (1914-1934) at The Wadsworth Atheneum. The success of the film programs and subsequent requests by hundreds of universities and museums to circulate the series, were instrumental in the formal establishment of a curatorial department at MoMA dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting film. On June 25, 1935, the founding of the MoMA Film Library became official with The Rockefeller Foundation committing $100,000 for Barry to acquire films in order to build a collection. Barry's immediate mission was to assemble the nascent collection as an inclusive yet selective archive of cinema. Barry's tenure at MoMA was from 1935 to 1951. Today, MoMA's film collection comprises some 25,000 cinematic works.
This exhibition is presented in conjunction with MoMA's publication of Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art (June 2010).