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INSIDE/OUT: A MoMA/MoMA PS1 BLOG

October 31, 2009  |  Artists, Behind the Scenes, Conservation
Claes Oldenburg: Conservation of Floor Cake

This is the first post by the Conservation Department at MoMA. We plan to give you a behind-the-scenes look at one of our current projects. In this project, Sculpture and Painting Conservation collaborate on an investigation into one of MoMA’s iconic Pop sculptures.

Claes Oldenburg - Floor Cake (Giant Piece of Cake) 1962

Claes Oldenburg. Floor Cake. 1962

Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake (1962) entered into the Painting and Sculpture Department at MoMA in 1975. Measuring five by nine feet, this popular piece of painted cake has been heavily exhibited in the Museum and across the United States, and has made three transatlantic voyages. The forty-seven-year old sculpture is now in the Conservation Department lab for study and treatment. Read more

October 28, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
An Auteurist History of Film: "Two Danish Innovators"

Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the “Two Danish Innovators” program, which screens on October 28, 29, and 30 in Theater 3.

Der Student von Prag (The Student of Prague) has been called “the first real auteur film.” Actually, it appears now to have been a collaborative effort between director Stellan Rye (1880–1914), cameraman Guido Seeber (1879–1940), and star Paul Wegener (1874–1948), whom the same critic (Klaus Kreimeier) dubbed “the first modern German film actor.” Although the Danish Rye died fighting for Germany early in the First World War I, Seeber went on to photograph the 1914 version of The Golem and G. W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street and Secrets of a Soul. Wegener, a Max Reinhardt protégé, acted in or directed (or both) The Golem and its more famous 1920 remake, along with several Ernst Lubitsch films, Rex Ingram’s The Magician, and numerous films for the Nazis. In 1926, Henrik Galeen took Hanns Heinz Ewers’s story for The Student of Prague and remade it with the great Conrad Veidt as Der Student. Ewers was later the chronicler of Nazi icon Horst Wessel, who was made famous by Wegener’s 1933 film performance.

Rye’s film was a clear forerunner of the German Expressionist style and psyche, making it all the more a pity that he died so young, a tragedy that perhaps rivals Jean Vigo’s death at twenty-nine. Although shot in naturalistic locations in Prague, Rye’s imaginative facility with the camera evoked the Faust legend, E. T. A. Hoffman, and Edgar Allan Poe. If Rye had lived a normal lifespan, he might have been confronted with the choice between his native Denmark and his proto-Nazi compatriots and collaborators. Read more

October 21, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
An Auteurist History of Film: "The Scandinavian Connection"

Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "The Scandinavian Connection" program, which screens on October 21, 22, and 23 in Theater 3.

Although Urban Gad (1879–1947) made a few films in Germany in the 1920s, during the golden age of Expressionism, his career had petered out by 1927. He clearly was not playing in the same league as Murnau, Lang, Pabst, Leni, Wiene, etc., and though an argument could be made that he anticipated some trends in Expressionism and that his use of eroticism was ahead of his time, his most significant contribution was the discovery of Asta Nielsen (1883–1972). Working in Germany, mostly with her then-husband Gad, Die Asta developed a restrained style of film acting, comparable to American counterparts like Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh. (To fully appreciate the achievement of these women, one should check out the staginess of Sarah Bernhardt’s film appearances from this period, although an elderly Eleanora Duse in Cenere managed quite well.) The actress performed Strindberg, Ibsen, Wedekind, and a cross-dressing Hamlet, but her most familiar role to Museum audiences would be in G. W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925), the film that precipitated Greta Garbo’s coming to America. After appearing in just one talkie, she began a forty-year retirement (later to be topped by Garbo’s half-century “reclusion”), but it should be noted that at the age of seventy she undertook a second career, becoming a gifted collagist.

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October 14, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
An Auteurist History of Film: “D. W. Griffith at Biograph”

Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "D. W. Griffith at Biograph" program, which screens on October 15 in Theater 3 and on October 16 and 17 in Theater 2.

i>A Corner in Wheat.</i> 1909. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. 35mm print, black and white, silent, approx. 15 min. Gift of Actinograph Corp. Preserved with funding from The Lillian Gish Trust for Film Preservation

A Corner in Wheat. 1909. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith. 35mm print, black and white, silent, approx. 15 min. Gift of Actinograph Corp. Preserved with funding from The Lillian Gish Trust for Film Preservation

Henri Matisse said, “My purpose is to render my emotion… I think only of rendering my emotion.”

Film history textbooks dutifully catalog the elements of cinematic grammar and expressiveness that D. W. Griffith invented or refined in his five years at Biograph (in collaboration with his cinematographer G. W. “Billy” Bitzer [1872–1944], who worked at the Museum Film Library late in his life, providing invaluable information on the Biograph films and preparing a posthumous autobiography)—a virtually endless list that includes close-ups, fades, masking, parallel editing, the moving camera or dolly shot, backlighting, changing camera angles, restrained histrionics through the cultivation of a stock company of professional film actors, “spectacle,” etc. Yet the salient point is that all of these essentially manipulative techniques served a larger purpose. Griffith’s great genius was his intuitive understanding of the inherent power of the movies to render emotion, to evoke feeling. No medium, before or since, has so thoroughly facilitated art’s capacity to touch that raw nerve, the primal and authentic human essence, and Griffith was the first filmmaker to fully grasp and exploit this fact. Fashions and conventions come and go, but at their best Griffith’s films—like all great art—are deeply felt expressions of what we are, of what it is like to be human.

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October 6, 2009  |  An Auteurist History of Film
An Auteurist History of Film: “Georges Méliès and His Rivals”

Charles Silver, a curator in MoMA’s Department of Film, presents a series of writings to supplement the film exhibition An Auteurist History of Film. The following post accompanies the "Georges Méliès and His Rivals", which screens on October 7, 8, and 9 in Theater 3.

<i>Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon)</i>. 1902. France. Directed by George Méliès

Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). 1902. France. Directed by George Méliès

I see Georges Méliès as a link in a continuum that runs from Jules Verne through film artists like Walt Disney and Tim Burton. Verne actually survived until 1905, enabling him to be well aware of Méliès in his heyday, and it can be hoped that the younger filmmaker found a way of expressing his gratitude to the older novelist for inspiring some of his best work. Méliès (1861–1938) died just a few weeks after Disney released the first of his epic fairy tales, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (For the record, Uncle Walt was around for the first eight years of Tim Burton’s life. We are, of course, highlighting Burton’s career in a major exhibition beginning next month, and my colleague Jenny He’s description, “a director of fables, fairy tales, and fantasies,” could as easily be applied to Méliès as to Burton.) One should also take note of Karel Zeman (1910–1989), the Czech animator/director whose feature films like The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1957) and Baron Munchhausen (1962) explicitly evoke Méliès’s style and subject matter.

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