The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria: Expanded, Updated, Redesigned, Reopened
After two mostly shuttered years, $67 million, an expansion in size to some 100,000 square feet, and lots of discussion about what, exactly, should be the mission of the institution as a whole, The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria finally reopened its newly gleaming doors about a week ago. And, after a couple of hours spent roaming the gorgeous, cloud-city-esque new space, including lots of time spent in the surprisingly, deeply engaging "permanent" exhibitions–we admit it: we had never made the trek to the old place–we have to say that they really nailed it here. In our eyes, The Museum of Moving Image went from an off-the-radar institution to a highly recommended cross-borough adventure, whether for families, movie and/or history buffs, contemporary video and film artists of all sorts, or anyone looking to do something different this year.
First, the new stuff at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC. We LOVE the design of the new sections, all of which use light, white, and, sometimes, a deft touch of color to create an open, floaty feeling to the stairwells; to the broad, comfortable mezzanine amphitheater; to the main lobby / gift shop / cafe area; to the plush screening rooms, one intimate, the other ample; to the classroom and workshop wing, where they hope to accommodate some 60,000 students a year; to the large gallery space for special exhibitions on the highest floor. Really, from a purely design standpoint, architect Thomas Lesser and his team did an outstanding job, both in conception and execution. And the flow is brilliant, as the Museum of the Moving Images building almost pulls you through the space-ship-ish space, as if by some alien tractor beam. The signage and typography, too, are very nicely done.
To help celebrate the grand reopening, the Queens Museum of the Moving Image has a number of special festivals and exhibitions going on. For the next six weeks or so, film serie such as Avant Garde Masters, Fist and Sword, Recovered Treasures, and the Films of David O Russell, among others, will take full advantage of the two spanking-new theaters. In the mezzanine amphitheater is Martha Colburn's pointed, sometimes funny, often provocative Dolls vs. Dictators, for which the artist combines puppetry, collage and painting in a looping animation, comprised of eight scenes total, starring, no surprise, dolls (of, for example, Brooke Shields, C-3PO, and JJ from Good Times) and dictators (eg. Kim Jong Il, Colonel Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe). We're suckers for collage, and so really enjoyed sitting at the museum and relaxing for a bit whilst watching the moving image mayhem projected on the big back wall.
On the highest floor, in the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria's largest new gallery, is the high-tech Real Virtuality show: six immersive installations that use either 3D, motion recognition sensors, or video game engines… that is, all sorts of technology developed for the "digital entertainment industry". Some of these are more successful than others. We loved the simple, striking Augmented Sculpture, above, in which Pablo Valbuena projects video–in this case, of light patterns–onto a approximately eight-foot-tall standing structure to create a truly dynamic piece. And RealTime UnReal, below, by Thomas Soetens and Kora Van den Bulke, is also fun, a simulated environment into which you can "enter", via 3D glasses, stereoscopic projections, moving tracking systems, and a hacked Quake III game software.
The biggest surprise of our visit, however, was how much time we spent in the spruced-up "historical" part of the Museum of the Moving Image, where items from the institution's permanent collection are on display. Here are dozens of pieces of movie memorabilia–Robert De Niro's mohawk wig from Taxi Driver; the Linda Blair head-spinning doll from The Exorcist; a rare Wampa doll from Empire Strikes Back–all smartly used to illustrate different aspects of the craft (and commerce) of movie-making. There is also lots of amazing old pieces of equipment here, from cameras to lights to television sets to projectors. The artist Red Grooms has an elaborate installation, of a movie house, and a sort-of haunted maze, that's well worth a walk-through, though the "classic" arcade games flanking the wall near this were, for the most part, extremely disappointedly, either partially broken (no reverse button on the Defender!) or completely "Out of Order". And there are lots of contemporary, interactive exhibits too, at which you can, for example, amusingly choose alternative sound effects for a clip from the Simpsons, or create your own insta-animation.
New York Museum of the Moving Image Details
The newly redesigned and reopened Museum of the Moving Image is located in Astoria, Queens, on 35 Avenue and 37 Street. Several subways stop near the Moving Image, but your best bet from Manhattan may be the Q or the N, to the 36 Avenue stop. The Moving Image galleries are open on Tuesday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., on Fridays from 10:30 until 8:00 p.m. (admission is FREE from 4:00 until closing on Fridays), and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 until 7:00 p.m. For lots more information, please see the Museum of the Moving Image website.