Los Angeles has a lot of identity issues. It’s an artists town understandably caught up in the Hollywood system and–structurally–is a suburban web passing for an urban oasis. It’s fascinating to think about how these identities interact with each other. Museums in Los Angeles are a good reflection of this, art museums having the most unique challenge of representing the city and keeping all creative parties happy. LACMA always does a terrific job at representing so many of our identities. Current marquee holder Stanley Kubrick is a great example of this balance, playing into our city’s identity issues in a fascinating way.
Kubrick is a celebration of filmmaker Stanley Kubrik. The East coast, transatlantic auteur is a legendary talent whose influences on film and popular culture are absolutely endless. His story is more complex than picking up a camera and making films but one of a young man trying to find himself through photography and art, which helped him arrive to a combination of all of his interests and desires: film. He had his fair share of struggles through the system (Spartacus being a great example, which you learn from the show) but eventually triumphed to make movies that are very uniquely “Stanley Kubrick.” Even if you have not seen all of his movies (or even any of his movies at all), you can understand how thorough his hand was in making.
The show reflects this absolutely perfectly. You enter the show by passing through two nearly identical films being screened, a dark room that vertical letterboxes the main hall of the show. This area is densely filled with texts, objects, and moving images. There is a line of film and photography equipment that parallels a wall of Kubrick’s early photographic work. A floor to ceiling framed collage of movie posters gazes over these photography items. There is a wall of deconstructed scripts to give a peek into his scriptwriting process. You begin to notice sections are devoted to movies. This starts in small ways with corners and walls honoring his first studio works. These lead into hallways and multiple rooms dedicated to more monumental films of his like 2001 and The Shining.
These shrines to his big films are where the show excels. You get rare looks at props and costumes and even analysis of cinematic minutia like the manifestation of a theme, the use of a color, or reflection of current socio-political climate. The installation of the show is absolutely wonderful and makes you feel comfortable wandering through it in any direction. Like Hammer’s Graphic Design show, Kubrick is more of a magazine than it is an open book: there are endless tidbits and infographic details on walls, dark rooms that ask questions like “Have you heard of Wendy Carlos?,” tables that attempt to piece together unrealized projects, and constant factoids about Kubrick’s personal life, interests, and activity in relationship to making. The experience is more similar to being in a cinema science museum than an art institution.
Kubrick is less about fine art than it is about the art of film, a very tricky area to navigate in the Los Angeles art world. LACMA has always had a very successful relationship with Hollywood as an industry and gets a lot of credibility because of their deep relationship with The Academy (who are co-presenting the show). Kubrick is not about “the art” and “the artist” in the obvious sense of auto-biography: it is dedicated to process and processing, placing all viewers into this specific auteur’s quickly moving gears.
Outside of film, there really is no tie to Los Angeles in the show (not that there needs to be). This show is clearly LACMA’s answer to MoMA’s monumental Tim Burton show and is poised to grow legs and travel to every large city once its Los Angeles tenure is completed. It is one many will talk about because it is a text book example of what a museum show is–although it doesn’t quite feel like an art museum show. Like Los Angeles, there is no way to define what the city needs to be. Our art museums are clearly a reflection of Los Angeles’ unending identity crisis which LACMA copes with quite gracefully. Stanley Kubrick will be on view at LACMA’s Art of the Americas Building through June 30 of next year. There are lots and lots of film programs associated with the show, too.