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Oct 17, 2007

Real Mondays at the MoMA


It's Monday and I'm arriving at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I feel similar sensations that I had back in 1999, when I first came to the city and the Museum. Eight years later, the same smell captivate me - nice, clean and particularly recognizable in a few New York buildings. The whole experience of walking into the MoMA reminds me of those days as a tourist, and make me realize again that I'm in New York; I'm at the MoMA. After a conversation with Sally Berger (Curator, MoMA) I understand that the Museum has a strong commitment with its mission, and a constant pursuance for new challenging materials. There is one goal that I believe it specially represents its main soul:

"...these forms of visual expression are an open-ended series of arguments and counter arguments that can be explored through exhibitions and installations and that are reflected in the Museum's varied collection..."

This goal is directly interwoven with the Modern Mondays series. The organizers of the film exhibitions asked themselves: where is the cutting edge of the motion picture? Following the Museum's long tradition of exploring cinematic experimentation, these screenings salute "innovation on screen" and invite us to meet new and old filmmakers, to enjoy not only their films but also to engage in dialog with them. This series developed from a program that commenced in 1968 entitled Cineprobe. In the mid '70s, a complementary program of new video work was screened in Video Viewpoints. Both of these programs were combined into a new program entitled MediaScope in 2002 and from there, Modern Mondays was born, bringing today thought-provoking questions with more than one answer.

This Monday - inaugurating the 2007 cycle - presented Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997), a film that has been remade ten years later, marking an unusual chapter in cinema history: the filmmaker is the same, what changed are actors (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) and country (U.S.A.). A remake that remains exactly the same, according to Haneke, except that unfortunately in today's world, violence is even worse. Feeling the subway rumbling beneath my feet in the Roy and Niuta Titus 1 Theater, I was ready to be delighted for first time by Haneke's original version of Funny Games, here in the Museum of Movement and Art.

After the film ended, Joshua Siegel (Assistant Curator, Department of Film at MoMA) introduced writer and director Michael Haneke as one of the best examples of what represents Modern Mondays. After a small conversation, they opened to Q&A with the audience that filled the theater:

- "The rules had become boring. We had to break them." I believe him: in this disturbing film, an animal and a child are killed, and both the characters and the filmmaker play with the audience. Haneke was asked why he needed to show this extreme violence in a film. He shot back: - "Why did you stay? Probably you needed it." There is a particular scene where part of the audience applauds a murder... but Haneke stops and rewinds, making everybody realize that in this parody of adults playing funny and kids behaving seriously, there are more things to question down beneath the surface.

Toward the end of this great night, I was lucky enough to ask Michael Haneke one of the last questions: - "I wonder what would you do if you have to define the word real for the dictionary..." He replied masterfully, summarizing the very essence of these Mondays: -"I had a philosophy professor who told me once that, if you are forced to define something, you're going into a slippery path, so it's better to avoid it..."

He laughed - another funny game around the permanent quest for meaning. It was probably the best answer I could obtain.


Modern Mondays full schedule

Organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator; Jytte Jensen, Curator; Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator; Rajendra Roy, Celeste Bartos Chief Curator; and Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film; and Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator; and Barbara London, Associate Curator, Department of Media.
Modern Mondays is supported by The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art. Media sponsorship is provided by Artforum.

The Museum of Modern Art
(212) 708-9400
11 West 53 Street,
between Fifth and Sixth avenues
New York, NY 10019-5497

Getting to MoMA
MoMA is located at 11 West Fifty-third Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Subway: E or V to Fifth Avenue/53 Street; B, D, or F to 47-50 Streets/Rockefeller Center. Bus: M1, 2, 3, 4, 5 to 53 Street.


* Picture above: Arno Frisch has
Stefan Clapczynski under control in Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997)

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