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A Bit of Glamour for MMI

A Bit of Glamour for MMI

New York Sun 2/27/2008


The Museum of the Moving Image is breaking ground today on a $65 million, 66,500-square-foot renovation and expansion, which will allow the museum to better accommodate its growing attendance and to exhibit works from the rapidly evolving field of digital media.

The museum’s director, Rochelle Slovin, said the renovation will “add a little bit of glamour to the building.” And, indeed, the new facility, slated to open in late 2009, will be very cutting-edge. Visitors will enter through doors embedded with 242 video monitors. Inside, while they purchase their tickets, they can simultaneously take in a 50-foot video panorama, which will feature specially commissioned or adapted artworks. There will be a new indoor amphitheater for video art and a garden where, at night, video art projected on the rear wall will be visible from inside the museum.

The museum is not trying to reproduce the hyperactive stimulation of Times Square, the deputy director, Carl Goodman, said. “This is not about overpowering or stunning people with digital images,” he said. The goal is to “provide a dynamic canvas for today’s moving image artists,” which “means having space to show things outside of traditional narrative film.” The architect, Thomas Leeser of Leeser Architecture, said that, by immersing visitors in a world of moving images, the new building will make them participants in, rather than observers of, the museum and its collections. “You enter the museum literally through a moving image,” Mr. Leeser said. “In the lobby is a 50-foot moving image wall. As you go up the stairs into the main galleries, you emerge from an image that is above and behind you” — the projection in the video amphitheater, which is tucked into the stairs. “We’re breaking down the barriers between the museum and the theater.”

Attendance to the museum, which was founded in 1981, has grown substantially in recent years, to approximately 100,000 in 2007 from 60,000 in 2000. “We’re bursting at the seams,” Ms. Slovin said. She attributed the increase to a combination of word of mouth, the museum’s Web presence — including its popular “The Living Room Candidate” exhibition, where visitors can view political advertisements going back to 1952 — and development in Queens.

The renovation includes a new, 264-seat theater, which Mr. Leeser described as “cutting-edge and state-of-the-art.” The seating will appear to float. The walls will be lined with deep-blue felt acoustical panels, and the lighting will also be blue. Mr. Leeser said the color was inspired by the work of Yves Klein and James Turrell. “We wanted to transport you into a completely different world,” he said, adding that the blue light creates “a sense of edgeless space.”

For the monitors on the museum’s exterior, Mike Stengle of Knowledge Resources in Basel, Switzerland, in collaboration with Scharff Weisberg, is designing a specialized processing chip to route digital video to the screens. The processor will be able, among other things, to enlarge images so that they stretch across multiple screens, or freeze or delay certain screens to create an overall pattern. The content could include adapted or commissioned work from video artists, animators, or motion picture designers; short films using video game material; live imagery from the Internet, or material connected with a current museum exhibition. “The idea is to capture all the different kinds of moving images that we experience in our daily lives,” Mr. Goodman said.

The expanded museum will include a gallery for changing exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition, titled “Massively Multiplayer,” will focus on the history of multiuser interactive online worlds and on contemporary art that either is created within these online worlds, uses them as raw material, or comments on them.

The expansion will also include a new 9,000-square-foot education center, with an amphitheater, classrooms, and a 71-seat screening room. It will allow the museum to welcome 60,000 students and teachers annually, double the number it can accommodate now. The city has contributed $42 million toward the project. The museum has also received support from Time Warner, the Hearst Corporation, the Verizon Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and private donors. The museum is about to launch the public phase of its fund-raising campaign, and Ms. Slovin said she hoped to raise at least $15 million more in private funds.

The museum’s core exhibition will be closed during the first phase of renovation, through approximately February 2009. The film exhibition program will continue off-site. In the meantime, the museum will be expanding its Web presence, with the 2008 edition of “The Living Room Candidate” launching on July 4, and “Moving Image Source” — a new international site for information, criticism, and news on all aspects of screen culture — launching in May.