Art or opportunism
Daily News columnist John Leo, however, believes the exhibition does not fall under the heading of "art" and further charges that the installation of this exhibit is financially motivated.
Leo, under an editorial headlined "This ain’t art" on May 5, 2001 wrote, "A hugely successful traveling ’Star Wars’ exhibit points the way toward more and more money-driven decisions."
Lehman, who is no stranger to controversy having hosted the "Sensation" exhibit in 1999, which drew charges of commercialism and Catholic-bashing, said drawing in visitors in order to take their money is not the goal of the Brooklyn Museum. Its mission, he said, is to offer art to the masses.
"We felt the merit of this exhibition is that it would be relevant and resonate with a broader community," Lehman told The Brooklyn Papers. "That’s very important. That’s part of our mission, to have a greater engagement with a broader audience.
"We don’t look at exhibitions in terms of dollar signs," said Lehman. "We look at exhibitions in terms of how to serve the mission of the museum. We plan to the best of our ability to break even. That’s how we organize ourselves. Sometimes we break even, sometimes we don’t do as well, but we budget very carefully. We are hopeful we have a very large audience, but the finances are complicated. The cost for a show like this is very large. It’s two full floors with lots of labor."
Lehman said that the components of filmmaking are directly related to the museum’s mission as well.
"The museum very actively collects design, costumes, photography and works on paper, all of which relate to what we’ll be showing. We do collect most of the component parts of what makes any film. It relates directly to what we do as an institution."
A huge draw
Lehman is in good company in his belief in the artistic merits of "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth." As he points out, the exhibition has been on tour for two years at many "fine arts" institutions in the United States, and it was organized by "our federal institution," the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
When "Star Wars" was at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, it attracted more than a million visitors and was one of the most visited Smithsonian exhibitions of all time.
According to Elizabeth Sudheimer, communications manager of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, the exhibit reeled in 99,323 visitors from Aug. 5, 2001 through Jan. 5, 2002. She said the museum is celebrating its centennial year, and "Star Wars" marked their sixth largest attendance for a show. The museum charged $7.50-$10 for tickets.
"We are glad we had [’Star Wars’]," said Sudheimer. "It was definitely a success. In the last three days of the exhibit, with [an advertising campaign with] a lot of ’Darth Vader is leaving the building’ kind of stuff, we had over 12,000 people."
Sudheimer said the Toledo Museum did receive criticism when they announced they were holding the "Star Wars" exhibition.
"Initially we did have an interesting reaction from local media, but they all changed their mind once they saw the exhibit," said Sudheimer. "First of all, moviemaking is an art form, and there’s a variety of art in the exhibit: models, beautiful drawings, the costumes."
The exhibit is likely to be well attended at the Brooklyn Museum, too, because it has the considerable benefit of coinciding with the marketing extravaganza that will precede the summer release of the next film in the "Star Wars" series, "Episode II: Attack of the Clones."
Lehman said the museum would sell tickets to the exhibit, which would include admission to the rest of the museum, for specific show times.
"We’ll be prepared to handle large crowds of people and make the experience as pleasurable and meaningful as we possibly can," said Lehman.
The Brooklyn Museum’s version of the "Star Wars" exhibit is one of the most comprehensive to date including the red velvet Queen Amidala gown, worn by actress Natalie Portman, in the latest in the series, the prequel to the first three, "Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
Another way the Brooklyn Museum will distinguish itself is in its exhibition design. Designer Yokobosky said, unlike other museums, which displayed the artifacts in a "black-box" setting, he is creating an "envelope of environment" around the pieces. The rooms containing artifacts from the desert scenes "will be painted like a desert with blue sky. The ice planet Hoth room, from ’Empire Strikes Back’ will have grays and blues of the mountains to evoke the icy landscape."
Lehman said that another boon to Brooklyn will follow the opening of "Episode II: Attack of the Clones" this summer - the museum will receive costumes from that film to display, as well.
For "Star Wars" junkies who want their fix a bit earlier, on Feb. 2, the Brooklyn Museum’s next free First Saturday event, guests can see the models of rebel droids R2-D2 and C-3PO in the grand lobby.
Place in history
Sudheimer said the "Star Wars" exhibit at the Toledo Museum had a broad appeal, and people could identify with the artifacts - even posing for photographs next to characters such as Darth Vader or Jabba the Hutt. She said several generations in a family could enjoy the show at the same time.
"’Star Wars’ may be the new hero, but art has always had heroes," said Sudheimer. "Grandchildren would educate grandma and grandpa in the ’Star Wars’ show, but the grandparents picked up our heroic tradition book and taught them."
Like the Toledo Museum, the Brooklyn Museum will introduce visitors to objects from its own collection. Titled "The Myth of the Hero and Heroine," a room set up as a preface to the "Star Wars" show, will include objects such as a marble head of Queen Cleopatra VII from the first century B.C., a Yoruba mask used in festivals commemorating the deeds of ancestral warriors, and a Rembrandt etching of Faust.
There is also a 30-minute introductory film that examines the impact of "Star Wars" on late-20th century world culture and an illustrated catalogue, "Star Wars: The Magic of Myth" (Bantam, 1997, $24.95) by curator Mary Henderson, which identifies elements of classical mythology in the "Star Wars" trilogy and examines the influence of Joseph Campbell’s book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" (Princeton University Press, 1976) on filmmaker George Lucas.
"Arnold really wants to do new and exciting projects," said Yokobosky. "He wants people to be engaged with the museum. It’s all coming together with the ’Star Wars’ show
"[Lehman] wants to encourage rethinking how exhibits can be put together to attract new audiences and engage them," he said," and to make them feel like they’re seeing art anew."