nyc art itinerary: Museum of the Moving Image

M surprised me by suggesting a visit to the Museum of the Moving Image. Though it’s in Queens, I’d never made it there, so it found its way onto my 2013 NYC art itinerary.

M had heard that the exhibition design is particularly good, which turned out to be delightfully true. But let me start with the bigger picture.

First, the building itself is really cool: beautiful typographic and graphic storefront window treatment, intriguing angles, gleaming white surfaces, spacious, modern and LEED-certified. The gallery spaces were full of character, yet allowed the artifacts, photos, and videos proper presentation. For example, there was a GIF project in the foyer; sometimes foyer projects get the short shrift in presentation—like a flat-screen installed randomly in an imposing antechamber. Here, five projectors screened a massive three-part composition, plus a didactic text. It was seamless, huge, yet because of the pace of the animations, it was not overwhelming—I thought it was perfectly installed and curated. It set the tone for the ambition of the institution nicely.

Second, the exhibition design is super cool. Clearly they are not skimping on signage, wall graphics, dramatic paint treatments, etc. Typographically the Spectacle: The Music Video exhibition was stellar—the exhibition title was in neon (!) while a historical section used hundreds of square feet of printed vinyl to add loads of charm to older videos. (Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, did you know, was shot in 4 hours and edited in 5? No excuses!)

One challenge with media shows is audio-bleed—and the museum was managed it in a variety of ways. On the first level of the show, a lot of restraint was used, allowing the sound from large theater to spill over into the exhibition area, where all videos were on headsets (though the light-bleed on the projection was less than desirable). On the second level, parabolic speakers, as well as speakers set in long boxes, like pedestals mounted to the ceiling, directed the sound to specific areas.

Overall I was really impressed with how beautifully everything was staged—the lighting and spatial design was directed, soft, yet dramatic. There was stagecraft, such as a neat short-throw projector that used a mirror to cast a huge projection just a few feet from the lens. I also appreciated a captivating edit of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies video with its dozens if not hundreds of YouTube re-makes. By presenting a video mosaic, which scrolled to different sections and zoomed into individual videos, viewers got a sense of the global popularity. It brilliantly unified a ton of user-generated content, but it took directorial and editorial vision to get there. Money, time, and expertise went into all of these strategies. For installers like me, it is appreciated, while visitors value it by way of just seeing the content, vibrantly displayed.

There is a lot to see, beyond the temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibition, with vintage film cameras, cathode ray tubes, mics, and even some Muybridges and a zoetrope, will be educational and fun next time I return, which I surely will.


Brian May, guitarist, astrophysicist, stereography enthusiast

We were barreling down a long corridor of ivy-covered trees in Tennessee when we finally listened to Terry Gross’ interview with Brian May (Fresh Air, WHYY, August 3, 2010), guitarist of Queen, co-writer of classic songs, astrophysicist and author of a new book on stereography.

It was one of those episodes of Fresh Air that you don’t soon forget.

It was a funny thing to hear May, with his humble and polite demeanor, describe touring with Queen, writing arena anthems, the non-issue of Freddy Mercury’s sexuality, and the pain of Queen’s limited success in America largely due to our homophobia. It was vital. I also relished paying attention to the strange structure of “We Will Rock You,” and May’s nerdy explanation of how he achieved the arena-like acoustics in the studio.

Of course the interview was spurred by May’s recent book of stereography, which is related to his PhD in astrophysics.

To be have a life in the arts, and to achieve the kind of success where your artwork becomes part of the culture, is really nothing short of extraordinary. To change courses and pursue specialized academics, and then share your love of science with a general audience, speaks to an admirable ambition and confidence. What an inspiration!