Maya Deren (American, 1917–1961) was a visionary of American experimental film in the 1940s and 1950s. A precocious student, she studied poetry and literature at New York University and Smith College, where she became interested in the arts. While working for modern-dance choreographer Katherine Dunham, Deren met her future husband, filmmaker Alexander Hammid, who introduced her to European avant-garde film. In 1943, the couple collaborated on the short film Meshes of the Afternoon, which has since become one of the most widely influential films of the American experimental-film movement.
Deren, who received the first Guggenheim Foundation grant for “creative work in the field of motion pictures” and formed the Creative Film Foundation to broaden support for experimental film, continued making and self-distributing her own films and lecturing and writing about avant-garde cinema theory until her untimely death at the age of forty-four. Her pioneering formal innovations—performing in front of the camera, using semiautobiographical content, and meshing literary, psychological, and ethnographic disciplines with rigorous technique—inspired future generations of experimental filmmakers.
This exhibition, which consists of a video installation in the Theater Galleries and short-film programs in the theaters, examines Deren’s legacy through both her own work and that of a trio of women directors upon whom she had an indelible influence: Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, and Su Friedrich.
Organized by Sally Berger, Assistant 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).