Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970 won’t open until 2020, but it’s already gaining some buzz. Yesterday it was announced that the collaboration between the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has won the Sotheby’s Prize for Curatorial Excellence.
Connie Butler, chief curator of the Hammer Museum and a member of the panel that selected this year’s winner, wrote in a statement that the exhibit “comes at a moment when issues of representation—of the under-representation of people of color, of women, of black filmmakers and artists—are so important and so urgent.”
The exhibit, for which Academy members Ava DuVernay and Charles Burnett were among the advisors, will be a first-of-its-kind exploration of the contributions that African American artists have made to the film industry from the very beginning. Academy Museum curators hope the exhibit will shine a light on work that has been historically under-represented. Regeneration will be a temporary exhibit, and specifically designed to travel to other museums and institutions after the L.A. run.
“We are very interested in ‘revisionist’ looks at film history, exploring inclusion and representation,” said Academy Museum director Kerry Brogher. That mentality, he hopes, will be reflected throughout the museum, including how the long-term collections are presented. Portions of the central exhibition, Where Dreams Are Made: A Journey Inside the Movies, will call out the contributions of women and people of color in film, and there will be floor space dedicated to global film production outside the Hollywood system.
Before Regeneration, the first temporary show to take residence when the museum opens is part of the commitment to highlighting filmmakers from outside the United States. Hayao Miyazaki will be the first museum retrospective in the country dedicated to the Studio Ghibli animation auteur responsible for such classics as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Concurrently, Tokyo-based teamLab will display a site-specific interactive work, Transcending Boundaries, in the 34-foot-tall Hurd Gallery space, which has been designed for contemporary artists to create projects, particularly ones that experiment with what movies might be in the future.
The long-awaited museum is now slated to open in late 2019. Primary construction on much of the 300,000-square-foot complex is now done, but there are still interior elements to design and details to finish. Once done, the museum will include the totally retrofitted 1939 May Company Building as well as the new glass structure known as the Sphere Building.
Inside will be six distinct gallery spaces, an education studio, and an expansive rooftop deck (with perfectly framed view of the Hollywood sign, of course) which may host art installations, outdoor movies, or other programming in the future. Two theaters, one seating 1,000 and a second seating 288, will host daily screenings, and will be set up to accommodate not only state-of-the-art digital projection, but also 16-, 35-, and 70-millimeter analog film, and even archival nitrate film, so viewers can watch historic movies just as they would have originally appeared.
One of the only museums dedicated to cinema in the world, the collection on display will draw from a massive collection of props, screenplays, production art, marketing materials, film and video recordings, and historical film technology, like Mary Pickford’s own film camera and displays of Louis and Auguste Lumière’s earliest projection inventions. Preserving the memory that there was a time before film technology was omnipresent and taken for granted is part of the museum’s mission.
“If you had asked me even ten years ago if I thought the history of film was disappearing, I would have said no,” Brogher said. “But increasingly, those early days of cinema are fading. It takes a very different kind of museum to understand and preserve this art form.”
At the same time, however, the museum is also tasked with reminding visitors that cinema (and, by extension, the Academy itself, perhaps) is relevant and innovative today, and not something locked in a glass display case with Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
“I hear every once in a while that cinema is waning, but I think it’s about to become something new,” Brogher remarks. “And because of that, this might be the best time to open a museum, because we’re at the pivotal moment.”