Iris Barry, c. 1940. Photo by George Platt Lynes

At the time of The Museum of Modern Art’s founding in 1929, there were no dedicated film programs in U.S. cultural institutions, film societies and festivals were few and far between, and American film culture consisted almost entirely of new studio releases. Yet by the mid-1930s MoMA had already begun to experiment with curated film screenings, organized by MoMA’s first film curator, Iris Barry.

The establishment of the MoMA Film Library—what is today the Department of Film—was initiated in 1933 with a challenge to Barry: organize a series of film programs to “test the waters” of public interest. In response, she presented a series of ten programs, titled The Motion Picture, 1914–1934, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. A successful run and offers from hundreds of universities and museums wishing to circulate the series made it clear that an interest in film as art was budding across the country. In 1935, the founding of the Film Library was made official, and The Rockefeller Foundation committed $100,000 to the nascent film collection.

Iris Barry: Re-View comprises films Barry originally selected for the historic screenings at the Wadsworth Atheneum, along with the Mae West vehicle She Done Him Wrong (1933), a controversial acquisition—now hailed as a cinema classic—that almost singlehandedly undid the establishment of the MoMA Film Library.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film. This exhibition is presented in conjunction with MoMA’s publication of Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art (June 2010).

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