A Shining Moment for A Beloved, Shocking Auteur: Stanley Kubrick at LACMA

It’s that time of year. Museums have begun to roll out the ostentatious, budget-breaking exhibitions that (fingers crossed) will draw massive holiday crowds. The next few months promise dramatically diverse audiences from out-of-towners to locals with time to spare, from regular arts supporters to their in-laws who haven’t entered a museum in a decade. Each museum has one goal in mind: to snare as many exhibit attendees as possible.

This year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art brings us one of the more buzz-worthy shows in question. The museum attempts to draw the same numbers it did last year for its Tim Burton retrospective with Stanley Kubrick.

Stanley Kubrick is one of those legendary characters who is as memorable as the characters he created on screen, particularly to those working in or near “The Industry” in Los Angeles. He’s the anti-hero of American cinema, a guy known for asserting almost dictatorial control over the artistic vision of his works to great success, and one of the few directors in cinematic history that could make a gruesome serial murder scene look gorgeous.

Still, just as certain dissenters argued that LACMA’s 2011 Tim Burton exhibit lacked artistic merit, certain protests have materialized with this retrospective. Stanley Kubrick is a brilliant filmmaker, but does that make him an artist?

The exhibit certainly spotlights Kubrick’s filmic genius–among the hundreds of objects on display are set props including a typewriter from The Shining, the iconic costume from A Clockwork Orange, and a model of Dr. Strangelove’s War Room. But it also puts forth the argument that Kubrick was (first and always) an artist, who experimented in various media and subject matter before ultimately landing in the film industry.

Turns out, before Kubrick was an award-winning director, before he was working on a set, before Kubrick was Kubrick really, he was a photographer. What’s more, he was a successful photographer whose work was first published in Look Magazine early in the 1940s.

Kubrick continued work in still images well into his film career, and LACMA has succesfully organized these images into a coherent, insightful collection within Stanly Kubrick. Photography was an art form that resounded with him, and that tendency toward still imagery resounds with his audience when they watch his films. Every frame, so consciously constructed, has its own photographic meaning.

Though LACMA logically opted to center its exhibit on Kubrick’s films (screenings of all of Kubrick’s work will run throughout the exhibit in LACMA’s Bing Auditorium), the included photography offers a raw glimpse into the auteur-artist’s interests. For visitors, many of whom know Kubrick’s movies intimately, his photography lends fresh interpretations. The shots demonstrate that Kubrick’s eye pre-existed his sets. And that’s an exciting realization indeed. It’s an almost Kubrickian epiphany–the REDRUM reversal moment–when everything becomes (perhaps to our horror, perhaps to our relief) shockingly clear.

Stanley Kubrick                                             For more information, visit LACMA’s Stanley Kubrick site
Los Angeles County Museum of Art    Read more about the exhibit on LACMA’s blog, Unframed.
November 1, 2012–June 30, 2013

Kit Warchol