CULTURE & ARTS

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Internet Icon, May Be Coming To A Museum Near You

An "experiential" exhibit celebrating the life and times of the 83-year-old justice is set to open in Los Angeles.
A man wears a T-shirt showing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as "Notorious R.B.G." at a celebration rally in
A man wears a T-shirt showing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as "Notorious R.B.G." at a celebration rally in West Hollywood, California, on June 26, 2015.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gearing up for the start of a new term at the Supreme Court, which kicks off next week in Washington and may or may not promise a lot of thrills and chills. 

But far from the court’s marble corridors, in Los Angeles, Ginsburg’s life and times will come alive in the form of a new exhibit around Notorious RBG, a best-selling book that traces the justice’s legacy on and off the bench ― and the young, cult-like internet following she has amassed in recent years.

Together with the book’s authors, the Skirball Cultural Center and its curators have begun to patch together the pieces and artifacts that will be on display at an exhibit of the same name beginning in 2018 ― a project they expect will give visitors an “experiential” dose of the memes, tattoo art and cartoons that have lit up the Tumblr page that came before the book.

And yes, the plans come with the blessing of Ginsburg herself.

“I have heard many good things about the Skirball and would be pleased to see Notorious RBG adapted into an exhibition,” the justice said in a letter to the center’s curators, who had asked for her permission prior to moving forward.

Cate Thurston, one of the curators who reached out to Ginsburg, told The Huffington Post that the exhibition stands out from others she’s curated in that it’s an outgrowth of something Ginsburg’s millennial fans started.

“One of the many things I love about the concept being born out of a meme is that in a contemporary sense it is truly history from the bottom up,” she said. “This is a show that’s been created by the public and we are fleshing it out.” 

Irin Carmon, an NBC News reporter who co-authored Notorious RBG with attorney Shana Knizhnik, said that Skirball’s “civically minded” culture jibed well with what the book sought to accomplish: placing Ginsburg’s life and struggles in the context of her battle for gender equality and civil rights. The tale is told with no shortage of fan art and illustrations, and with enough archival material and legal commentary to win over skeptics.

Folks at Skirball really liked the combination of all these pieces, and so before they pitched the idea to Ginsburg, they asked Carmon and Knizhnik for their thoughts and then they all ran with it.

“This book brought in all the elements, and the fact that this book was already a multimedia project really appealed to them,” Carmon said.

Though the details are still being hashed out, Carmon said she hopes the exhibit is a “walking experience” of sorts ― a mix of judicial biography and civics with sights, sounds and even things visitors can touch.

For some idea of what that might look like, one may look to the Tumblr page that begat the book, which Knizhnik created in 2013 as a frustrated law student after the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This meme was one of several that made their rounds online shortly after the Supreme Court struck down an important section o
This meme was one of several that made their rounds online shortly after the Supreme Court struck down an important section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In that case, Ginsburg was on the losing side. But as the senior justice in the minority, she assigned the dissenting opinion to herself ― and her screed was so forceful that she decided to read a version of it from the bench.

“The Voting Rights Act became one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our Nation’s history,” Ginsburg wrote at the time. “Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”

These and other dissents serve as a kind of thematic thread for both the book and online versions of Notorious RBG, and one of Thurston’s challenges will be to make the words on the page ― and Ginsburg’s life story ― come alive in three dimensions.

Curators for the Notorious RBG exhibition hope to take advantage of the space at the Skirball Cultural Center to make th
Curators for the Notorious RBG exhibition hope to take advantage of the space at the Skirball Cultural Center to make the visit a "hands-on" experience.

“We want for there to be historic artifacts and we want for visitors to engage and play and touch and create,” Thurston said. “We’re still playing with those ideas but we will definitely want to have many elements in the gallery where visitors can create or perhaps lend their voice to something.” 

Thurston said it would be an “honor” if the show travels to other cities. “The exciting part of public history is that you can tell this story and share it widely and listen to how our visitors react to that,” she said. 

Until then, the curators have plenty of material to work with and expect to get a hold of more items. Carmon said her “dream” would be to feature in the exhibit one of Ginsburg’s courtroom jabots ― the neckwear she dons when she’s announcing an opinion from the bench.

And if it’s the special one she wore when she dissented in the voting rights decision, even better. “The sky is the limit,” Carmon said.

Notorious RBG, the exhibit, will open to the public sometime in 2018. In the interim, Ginsburg’s admirers might want to catch her in action when the Supreme Court returns to the bench on Tuesday. That day also happens to be the release date of My Own Words (Simon & Schuster), Ginsburg’s first book, a compilation of writings and essays.