After 10 Years, MoMA’s Film Stills Archive Remains Closed

This week, Time published an article about the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Stills Archive, which was closed on Jan. 11, 2002, due to a lack of space. The museum said the archive would reopen once they moved into their larger premises in Midtown, which happened back in 2005. The collection of “some 4 million photographs documenting more than a century of movies, performers and directors” remains shuttered in the MoMA film department’s storage facility in Hamlin, Pa. The head of the archive, Mary Corliss does not have access to it, according to the article, nor do any other film scholars and critics.

(One little note: the Time article was written by Richard Corliss, Ms. Corliss’ husband.)

Mr. Corliss admits he might be biased, but he is not alone in wondering why the archive is still closed off. (The Observer wrote about the archive’s close in a great article from 2002, along with many other publications at the time). Mr. Corliss quotes this Village Voice article, about a 2000 labor dispute at MoMA, as the reason why the archive remains closed: “[Former MoMA staffer Terry] Geesken and Corliss were both active participants in the [four-and-a-half-month] strike [in 2000] by United Auto Workers union Local 2110…, and they suggest the layoffs are related. The coincidence is not lost on many film scholars. ‘Mary was a vocal supporter of the strike,’ says film historian Eric Myers, ‘and this is one way they have of getting rid of her.’”

Whether that’s true or not has not been proven definitively, but one thing is certain: a good deal of cinematic history is collecting dust in storage. On MoMA’s web site, there is still a link to the Film Stills Archive page. A message there reads:

As part of the long-term plan to expand and renovate the Museum, the Film Stills Archive has been closed temporarily and moved to The Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, a state-of-the-art facility designed for the permanent and short-term storage of the Museum’s film and media collections.

While the Film Stills Archive is closed to the public, we suggest that you contact the following organizations:

32 East 31 St., fifth floor
New York, NY 10016
(212) 633-6330

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
40 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023-7498
(212) 870-1630

Academy Film Archive
Center for Motion Picture Study
Margaret Herrick Library
333 South La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 247-3020
Special collections: (310) 247-3000

The British Film Institute
Stills, Posters and Designs
21 Stephen Street
London W1T 1LN
020 7957 4797
Fax: 020 7323 9260

The full Time article is essential reading.

After 10 Years, MoMA’s Film Stills Archive Remains Closed