As a rule, I find museum shows devoted to famous filmmakers to be a big disappointment. At best, they are predictable and unimaginative regurgitations of a filmmaker's career. At worst, they are uncritical glorifications, worshipping at the feet of a blockbuster director whose movies have made obscene amounts of money. Last year, such a blockbuster museum exhibition, dedicated to Tim Burton, was a huge hit with the public, first in New York at MoMA and later here at LACMA.
I saw the exhibition at both venues and found it suffocating, overwrought, and, ultimately, boring. That being said, you can imagine the level of skepticism with which I approached LACMA's sprawling mega-exhibition celebrating the career of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.
And what a surprise it turned out to be. I went to see it three times and, each time the exhibition allowed me to dive deeper and deeper into Kubrick's mind. Instead of merely following his illustrious career step by step, the exhibition gave me the sensation that I was watching firsthand the bizarre but utterly fascinating way in which Kubrick imagined and created one masterpiece after another: Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Lolita, and the list goes on.
The exhibition was initiated by the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany and then traveled for several years around the world to various cultural institutions before landing here in Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, LACMA is the first fine art museum to host the exhibition and the way it's presented here is radically different from its previous incarnations.
LACMA made the inspired, outside-the-box decision of asking Patti Podesta -- an LA video artist, college professor, and well-respected Hollywood production designer -- to re-envision and re-design the exhibition. And Patti Podesta has done not only that but also pulled off much, much more...
Instead of documenting or mimicking Kubrick's working method, she has treated every gallery as a theater stage, filled with movie props, costumes, cameras, and oversized, back-lit transparencies showing key moments of film production; all that along with hundreds of photographs, stills, sketches, posters, and annotated manuscript pages. Because Kubrick's movies are so uniquely different from one another, the designer smartly decided to treat each gallery as a mini-exhibition of its own, rather than looking for a unifying aesthetic.
As a result, every gallery has its own distinct mood, distinguished by the strong colors of its walls and floor and the unpredictable placement of objects and artworks -- sometimes leaning against, but mostly, climbing and dancing over the walls. And in one occasion, a large display case dangles precariously from the ceiling, as if ready to fall on your head.
In the gallery devoted to Kubrick's horror film, The Shining, the oversized, ghostly image of two twin girls is superimposed on the wall with two very real axes plunged into the drywall ominously close to their faces.
In a room telling the violent story of A Clockwork Orange, there are two oversexed plastic female mannequins placed against a black wall bearing, in psychedelic script, the garbled English and Russian phrases used by characters in the film.
Every week, LACMA is screening one of Kubrick's classic movies. And the best way to enjoy and truly appreciate them is to visit the exhibition first: to immerse yourself in his creative process and to inhale the weird and wonderful aromas emanating from the cinema of Stanley Kubrick's imagination.
Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.