No Dancing Images
by Kathryn Luckstone
The Museum of the Moving Image relaunched on January 15th of this year, after having closed in 2008. Located in Astoria, Queens, the museum is appropriately adjacent to the Kaufman Studios and the Frank Sinatra Performing Arts High School. The newly renovated space, designed by architect Thomas Leeser, known for his ultra modern and geometrically complex work, now houses a 267-seat theatre, a 68-seat screening room, expanded exhibition galleries and an education center. The brand new lobby and café invite you into a world of art that is all white. Literally every inch from floor to ceiling and every addition in between is pristine winter white. Hundreds of slushy boots later, I found myself sympathetic to those responsible for mopping at the day’s end.
Centrally located in a family neighborhood, the museum delivers a vast array of educational programs and marketing aimed at the next generation of filmmakers. The Ann and Andrew Tisch Education Center will facilitate weekend programs, workshops and demonstrations including the making of hand drawn flipbooks and digital drawings. While the museum boasts family-friendly programming, the diversity of the exhibits caters perhaps too much to a more mature audience.
New Yorkers rarely protest the blurring of art and culture: the word “museum” inherently invites observers of all ages. Parents do not object to nudity in paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, and rightly so. However, in the age of television and video game ratings, I wonder if family-centered presentations of the moving image can responsibly parallel the liberal rules of other fine art institutions.
Up the first muddy staircase to an open screening area is the first introduction to the museum’s exhibits. DOLLS VS. DICTATORS by Martha Colburn is a brightly colored animation with an allure of whimsy, until you have watched for a few minutes. Amidst a crowd of five to eighty-five year olds, I searched for some audience reaction to images of Robert Mugabe (the current president of Zimbabwe) stabbing a puppet of Pee Wee Herman in the eye with a pencil, and of the president of Ethiopia torturing and killing an army soldier. Hannah, the eight-year-old seated to my right appeared unfazed by the images. Her parents seemed even less concerned. Asked what she thought of the animation, Hannah replied, “Ummm, well it’s kind of weird”. When I approached Hannah’s parents on the subject, her mother commented, “It’s definitely more violent than I’d expect, but we’ll go to the next room shortly”. The father added, “Ehh, it’s New York, they can get away with it”. Having lived in the New York area for almost seven years, this exchange made this twenty-something observer wonder if I was being prudent.
In the next room was the artifact exhibit one would expect of a museum dedicated to film. Studio portraits of film stars, masks, costumes, set models, original cameras and props crowd the wall space like a Hollywood film buff estate sale. Interactive touchscreens throughout the exhibit list all of the professional titles of a film crew with their job descriptions, ranging from well-known titles like director and producer to the lesser-known foley artist and the obscure in-betweener (which is a 2nd assistant animator).
Overall, the museum excels at educating those less familiar with the film world and offers artistic and retrospective cinematic incite to amateur and professional filmmakers. While the curatorial selection may be questionable, as aptly noted by Hannah’s mother, there is always another room. The only omission that left this visitor disappointed was that there was no dancing at the Museum of the Moving Image, at least not yet. Perhaps dance filmmakers can sway the curatorial team in the future to present more dance and fewer dictators.