Film Academy Museum, Yet to Open, Reveals Inaugural Exhibitions

Posted December 4, 2018 11:43 p.m. EST

LOS ANGELES — When the long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens next year, it will offer a mix of scholarship and sparkle as it tries to appeal to two discordant audiences: moviedom’s elite and the tourist masses.

Kerry Brougher, the museum’s director, announced his programming strategy Tuesday. The $388 million institution — its opening now pushed back to late 2019 — expects to attract in the vicinity of 1 million visitors annually. It is next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and features a theater inside a spherical building designed by Renzo Piano that has been likened to the Death Star. (Piano prefers to think of it as a “soap bubble.”)

Anchoring the six-floor Academy Museum will be a 30,000-square-foot exhibition tracing the artistic and scientific history of cinema from a filmmaker’s perspective, starting in the late 1800s in France, and including an array of movie installations. Galleries will focus on early female directors, international silent film, Soviet cinema, the Hollywood studio system and Indian independent film, among other topics.

Brougher said that he wanted the sprawling history exhibition to take an international and “revisionist” approach and pay particular attention to diversity — a topic that has roiled the predominantly white and male movie industry since 2015, when the #OscarsSoWhite social media outcry began. Rita Moreno, for instance, will stand beside Fred Astaire as an incomparable screen dancer, and Marilyn Monroe will share icon status with pioneering Mexican actress Dolores del Río.

The museum, founded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, will also feature substantial temporary exhibitions, starting with a retrospective on Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animation titan behind films like “Spirited Away” (2001) and “The Wind Rises” (2013).

“I wanted to open with something unexpected to establish this as a global museum,” Brougher said by phone, referring to the Miyazaki showcase, which will be mounted in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, which Miyazaki co-founded in Tokyo.

Another exhibition focused on inclusion, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1900-1970,” will replace the Miyazaki show in 2020. The scholarly project will “reveal the important and underrecognized contribution of African-American filmmakers in the development of the American cinema,” Brougher said.

On Tuesday, “Regeneration” received the Sotheby’s Prize, an award of $250,000 designed to encourage museums to explore overlooked or underrepresented areas of art history. In a statement, Allan Schwartzman, a Sotheby’s chairman and executive vice president, predicted that the black cinema exhibition would “rewrite our understanding of the history of film.”

Serious-minded offerings will undoubtedly please the academy, which did not want its museum to be a tourist-pandering collection of memorabilia. One of the academy’s stated goals for the institution is to “ensure film’s legacy as the great art form of our time.”

But getting tourists in the door — admission hasn’t been set — will take some sugar, as any seasoned museum director will tell you. To that end, Brougher, who previously served as interim director and chief curator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, will sprinkle the Academy Museum with offerings more likely to appeal to casual sightseers.

One of the surviving pairs of ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” for instance, will be in the Spielberg Family Gallery, in the lobby. On view elsewhere: the typewriter used to write “Psycho,” and the doors to Rick’s Café Américain from “Casablanca.”

The Academy Museum will also offer a high-tech attraction and photo stop called “the Oscars experience.” (Start preparing your acceptance speech.) One gallery will place visitors inside the mind-bending stargate corridor sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Public programs will include daily film screenings, including Saturday matinees for children, and splashy events in the orb building’s David Geffen Theater, which can accommodate a 60-piece orchestra onstage. The motion picture academy will have local competition. The Los Angeles County Museum has its own film program and has hosted popular movie-related exhibitions like one on filmmaker Tim Burton. Well-established local organizations like American Cinematheque already coordinate public screenings of significant art films. And construction has begun near downtown Los Angeles on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which will house items collected by George Lucas, including 20th-century American illustrations, comic books, costumes, storyboards, stage sets and other archival material from “Star Wars” and other movies. The Lucas Museum, shaped like a “Star Wars” vessel, and its surrounding campus will cost an estimated $1 billion.

But the motion picture academy — its collection includes 190,000 film and video assets and 61,000 posters — has wanted its own museum for decades. Steered by its determined chief executive, Dawn Hudson, it has pushed through recent setbacks that have included sparring architects, a ballooning budget (the museum was originally expected to cost around $250 million) and an opening date delayed by two years because of construction difficulties.

For four years now, Brougher has been the director of a museum that does not exist. The museum announced in April that its doors would open in the middle of next year. But Brougher said that a few more months were needed to install exhibitions and test interactive features.

Unveiling his programming plans nonetheless represents a step forward. “It’s a thrill to finally be able to talk about all the various things this museum can be,” he said. “I’ve been holding it in for so long.”