Prop Art

The rise in film related museum shows: are we already mourning cinema?

Is the museum takeover of movie ephemera weird to anyone else? I mean...I loooove that storyboards, costumes, set pieces- all that stuff- are becoming elevated to art (jump started by the wildly attended Tim Burton retrospective at MoMA a few years ago, and Deitch's Gondry fetish leading up to that..and the recently announced Bjork exhibit- a music, film, costume, app crossover- which spurred me to write this post). And it is great that these things are no longer regulated to solely movie museums and Planet Hollywoods across the globe also spooks me a little that people need to see these physical objects removed from the ethereal cinematic experience in order to appreciate them.

Each of these film-related "things" we see in museums were placed with a purpose, expertly lit, engaged in a story, edited, appeared during a particular song, and so on, culminating in the all encompassing form of contemporary art: cinema! There are a few reasons I think this trend is happening:1. The high-art film prop is acting to ground cinema in the real world, to elevate & isolate it from the accessible internet ether that films are now floating in. 2. It is new way to profit from the rickety film system, these objects seen as solid commodities in the market of a not-so-concrete medium. 3. The accessibility of a film audience is being capitalized on by these museums in an attempt to bolster visitor numbers...most people have probably heard of Burton whereas Arp? Probably not so much! Ultimately, these shows are helping film during its weird digital transition but seeing these tiny parts divested from their whole is a worrisome thing to me.

Seeing objects stripped of meaning in an alien setting could take away from the elaborate, constructed film world they were meant to live in. Here is my terrible, overly dramatic comparison: a stroke of a Picasso instead of the whole thing? A sentence of Hemingway instead of the novel? No way! Without the big picture, objects are somewhat empty, devoid of their signification. Seeing a cinematic object becomes a Where's Waldo interaction with film ("What film did this come from?") rather than a thoughtful, introspective, emotional one ("what was the symbolic importance of this object in this particular story"). And, even if the craft of the objects themselves are being celebrated as a new type of sculpture, there is the craft of the huge undertaking of film that could also use a fine art pedestal. But....despite my skepticism: I am planning on seeing the hell out of the Jim Henson exhibit listed below!

1. David Cronenberg, The Exhibition. (a traveling exhibit originating from TIFF). The EYE Film Institute of Amsterdam. June 22nd-Sept 14th, 2014.  Well...if a filmmaker is going to have an exhibit with objects I guess Cronenberg IS the best candidate being that his films often deal with the physical manifestations of psychological states that his transforming, mutating, augmented characters undergo...! (Images from top: Crash, The Fly, eXistenZ)

2. Jim Henson: The Exhibition. The Museum of the Moving Image. Queens, NY. TBD 2015.
Jim Henson is one of my heroes. Rooted in experimental film he managed to be one of the only people to elevate puppets to actors while combining a signature heart, humor, and artistry. I can see there being a positive effect of seeing Henson's creation in the flesh too, reinforcing a physical creativity that is fundamental in storytelling and play, aspects of childhood development that need to be revived. There will be puppets! (Image from previous exhibit Jim Henson's Fantastic World)

3. The Dying of the Light: Film as Medium & Metaphor. Mass MoCA. North Adams, MA. Opens March 29th-2014-????. This exhibit is a nice confluence of my concerns above as it focuses on the medium of film (film film, not digital film). It deals with the changing symbol film has become, its physical presence, its mechanical needs, the physical yet transparent materialization-and more- all highly unique to this form. Film itself is now an object. Most of all: I love me some Tacita Dean! Other artists on display include Rosa Barba, Rodney Graham, Lisa Oppenheim, and Simon Starling. (Image directly above & below)

4. Icons of Science Fiction and Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Films. EMP (Experience Music Project). Seattle, WA. Summer 2014. Horror and Sci-fi used to rely on the physical to create their own emotional microcosms. It is weird to think that these shows are like Unnatural history exhibits, artifacts to the now digital worlds created for scary & futuristic movies...weird! I wonder if this is another reason hands on film shows are so popular...the world is changing so fast our dinosaurs are still living.  I just learned about this space, EMP, created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, designed by Frank Gehry, and celebrating the art of popular culture- neato! (Below: the axe from The Shining, as part of Can't Look Away show)



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.