Join author and journalist Cathy Whitlock (Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction), set decorators Ellen Christiansen (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Sheila Bock (Madam Secretary), and Andrew Baseman (Crazy Rich Asians) as they take us behind the scenes of their highly acclaimed productions, and share their design secrets and talk about working as a designer in the film industry.
While much of the buzz surrounding the Academy Awards centers on the winners and the red carpet, there's one thing all eyes are sure to be on: the stage. And that's why the Academy has gone all out this year, with a maximalist fantasy of a set design to honor the awards' 90th anniversary, which takes place on Sunday, March 4.
The crystal confection is the brainchild of Derek McLane, a Tony and Emmy award–winning scenic designer who incorporated a whopping 45 million Swarovski crystals into the design. This is McLane's sixth time designing Hollywood's most-watched stage, and it's his most ambitious–and abstract—yet. The centerpiece of the design is a crystalline proscenium, made of octagonal tiles blending crystal, metal, and mirror, while the stage itself is a dynamic design that will shift throughout the event, thanks to a combination of physical and digital effects.
And, fittingly for the Oscars' 90th anniversary, the stage design pulls inspiration from a wide range of references from throughout film history, from classic Hollywood Regency design to Art Deco. It's too soon to call it, but the stage might just be the night's best dressed.
The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts’ spring exhibition Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth will examine the proliferation of collage in architectural representation, specifically in scenography and theatrical set design. The show has invited contemporary designers to rethink the relationship between theatricality and architecture, while drawing on historical references from 19th-century toy theaters through Aldo Rossi’s Little Scientific Theater. The show features the work of a wide range of architects and artists, including Argentinian architects Emilio Ambasz and Gerardo Caballero, Portuguese firm fala atelier, Brazilian architect Marcelo Ferraz, and British architect Sam Jacob, as well as American offices Johnston Marklee, MOS Architects, and Norman Kelley.
Other contributing architects include OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Cecilia Puga, Aldo Rossi, Taller de Arquitectura Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, and Pezo Von Ellrichshausen. Artists in the show include Pablo Bronstein, William Leavitt, Silke Otto-Knapp, Gabriel Sierra, Batia Suter, as well as dramaturge Jorge Palinhos. Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth is curated by the Mexico City–based LIGA, Space4Architecture, Ruth Estévez, and PRODUCTORA founder Wonne Ickx.
Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth
The Graham FoundationMadlener House
4 West Burton Place, Chicago
Through May 27, 2017
When one thinks of gardens, lush, fertile and verdant settings with splashes of color usually come to mind. But the Edenic world created in Jennifer Wen Ma’s Paradise Interrupted is black and white. And yet the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Peony Pavilion, and the Garden of Eden were all on Ma’s mind when she conceived the “installation opera” that just opened the 2016 Lincoln Center Festival, which she designed, directed and co-authored. This monochromatic world is inhabited by The Woman (Qian Yi, who the New York Times calls “China’s reigning opera princess”) who, garbed in simple, flowing white and a 3-D printed headdress, awakens from a vivid, rapturous dream of pleasure. By contrast, the real world feels barren and alone, a black stage with black/grey video behind and an outlined square around her, first white and then black. Highlighted by a constellation of light, she follows the Earth’s four wind elements (embodied by four male singers) through a gate into a white space boasting a black line which lifts into a stylized young tree. As the branches multiply and grow, black paper cutout foliage appears to form the origami-like dark lushness that is the garden. Digital fireflies dart and swarm, voice activated in real time by the Woman’s singing. The fireflies coalesce into a man, who then dissipates.
Transformation is key—the four Elements become wolf spirits; the tree continues to grow taller and fuller. An ink drop on the ground marks the spot where a large white geometric flower unfolds like a pop-up book, the symbolic fulfillment of the Woman’s paradise, where she once again falls asleep. When she awakes, she is stuck in the flower’s clutches, realizing that desire has imprisoned her. As the Woman frees herself, the flower collapses, the garden deconstructs, black ashes rain down, and the garden returns to nothing. With new clarity, the Woman, in her white gown now with black splotches at the base, rises up from the black ink pool, where she can paint any world she imagines. Ma worked closely with architect Matthew J. Hilyard of FTL Design Engineering Studio to realize the design.
Probably best known as Chief Designer for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which earned her an Emmy for the U.S. broadcast, Ma’s interdisciplinary practice bridges video, drawing, performance, public art and fashion design. Those ceremonies could be considered a dry-run for opera.
Currently, her work can also be seen at the Cass Sculpture Foundation in West Sussex, England (July 3- November 6) in the exhibition A Beautiful Disorder. Her piece is called Molar (referring to biological mass), a site-specific work that is also about a paradisiacal garden that brings the landscape indoors with an upside-down, suspended black Tyvek tree with flash-spun non-woven HDPE fiber leaves and glass teardrops that drip down from the ceiling and birth a landscape below. Note that the materials are cast-offs from “Paradise Interrupted.” Ma notes that the word “paradise” means “walled enclosures” in Old Iranian, hence her landscape is lined with walls made of mirrored Plexiglas featuring etched trees that form a rectangle filled with 75 kilograms of black Chinese ink and golden-colored glass balls. Here, she also worked with Hilyard.
These continue Ma’s garden-inspired artworks, many of which were run-ups to Paradise Interrupted: in 2012 at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, she initiated an opera performance from the Peony Pavilion under her in installation called Hanging Garden in Ink that proved to be a catalyst. The following year at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, she staged In Search of the Garden of Eden. Also, in 2013, Ma was an artist in residence at Performa 13 where she prototyped Paradise Interrupted, which premiered at Spoleto. Other garden-related installations include Pittsburgh’s Market Square (A Winter Landscape Cradling Bits of Sparkle, 2015), the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair (Who Would have Expected to Encounter Ni Zn’s Gentlemen in S-Chant?, 2011), St. Moritz lakeside (Germinating Thoughts, 2011), and Art Gallery of New South Wales (Petrified Garden, 2010). She has even used the motif in fashion with her Dark Blossom dress (2012) and Hanging Garden Scarf.
Another work currently on display is Nature and Man in Rhapsody of Light at the Water Cube at the National Aquatic Center in Beijing by PTW Architects of Australia, built for the 2008 Olympics. In 2013, Ma and lighting designer Zheng Jianwai were commissioned to illuminate the Cube to activate and reimagine the skin of this iconic building. The daily interactive programming for the Cube, which was crafted by video designer Guillermo Acevedo, collects Emojis used on a Chinese website and interprets them using the I Ching; this process uses the same technology he employed for voice activation in “Paradise Interrupted.” Perhaps the water here is nourishing Ma’s gardens.
And if you’re in New York on November 11, see Ma at the Asia Contemporary Art Week’s Field Meeting, curated by Leeza Ahmady, at the Guggenheim Museum, where Ma will present a lecture/performance on the four-year long alchemical process of creating “Paradise Interrupted” with another artist playing the voices in her head. In a marked contrast, the fluid, serendipitous, improvisational artist process of her art-making plays out against the codified and rule-based traditions of Chinese opera.
Some child psychologists have balked at the newly unveiled set redesign for the landmark children’s TV show, Sesame Street, now entering its 46th season. The brownstone-lined 123 Sesame Street will receive a glossy new lick of paint, so to speak, in an effort to contemporize the set.
Psychologists caution that the repositioning of Oscar the Grouch’s garbage can and Elmo’s new bedroom could prove “traumatic” to change-averse youngsters. “Most younger children—children in general—really like consistency,” Dr. Eugene Beresin, Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, told Vice News. “The reason you read Goodnight Moon over and over again or the reason you watch the same episode of Sesame Street is because they really thrive on familiarity.”
The show’s producers insist that the alterations are minor, and that rooting the characters in more domestic environs enriches their characterization, personality, and backstory. “The redesign itself is not particularly jarring for young children. They will notice changes, but it’s really about making the set brighter, more fun, grounding the characters in specific locations on the street, making it more of a community feeling,” said Autumn Zitani, director of content for Sesame Street’s education and research team.
Award-winning set designer and visual storyteller David Gallo has conceptualized a new community center, rooftop seating area with a water tower, and a retro-looking Hooper’s store, above which is a new bachelor pad for Cookie Monster, the perennial loiterer.
Meanwhile, Elmo now occupies a bedroom papered with crayon drawings and filled with colorful cubbies bursting with toys, rather than his Crayola-splattered cardboard box–like dwelling of old. This bedroom will be the cornerstone of the main brownstone. Big Bird, on the other hand, has migrated to the skies with a branch-perching nest.
Still, other psychologists hail these sea changes as positive. “Giving children more opportunities to see and recognize sets can only foster their visual spatial intelligence and encourage healthy imagination,” said Heather Lappi, a school psychologist working in Pennsylvania. Conversely, the more conservative Dr. Beresin recommended first monitoring children’s reactions, and offered this hedging remark: “If the child is getting freaked out, turn the TV off.”
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has a thing for star architects. As part of a trilogy of Mozart operas directed by Gustavo Dudamel (himself a global celebrity), in 2012 Frank Gehry designed the set for Don Giovanni, in 2013 Jean Nouvel designed one for The Marriage of Figaro, and this month Zaha Hadid Architects has designed the backdrop for Così fan tutee, the trilogy's finale.
The firm's curving white design, evocative of a skateboarding bowl (or a Corian sink?), is meant to represent a large sand dune on the Italian coast. It was called "shape-shifting" by the LA Times. Its steep inclines have presented challenges to performers, but they seem to be adapting in rehearsals.
Shows begin on Friday. Costumes were created by British designer Hussein Chalayan, who, like Hadid, is known for edgy, tech-heavy designs. And the director, Christopher Alden, is also known for taking risks. It seems like a combination that should stir things up, and perhaps produce a template for still-rare collaborations across disciplines.
Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the CinemaMuseum of Modern Art
The Roy and Niuta Titus Galleries and the Film Lobby
Dante Ferretti: Designing for the Big ScreenThe Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters
Through February 9, 2014
When you enter the Film Entrance to the Museum of Modern Art at 11 West 53rd Street, you are greeted by two large lions. No, you are not 11 blocks south at the New York Public LIbrary, nor are you in Venice, Italy. You are entering the world of Dante Ferretti, the 70-year old multi–Academy Award–winning art director of films, opera, exhibitions, and even two New York City restaurants, Salumeria Rosi (design inspired by a scene in Federico Fellini’s Satyricon). Large, muscular, physically confident objects dot the floor—the clock-face from Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011), Art Deco chandeliers from Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975), and Arcimboldo figures comprised of vegetables, fruits and flowers (Milan World Expo, 2015). But these are actually lightweight, ephemeral objects made of fiberglass and not meant to last beyond the creation of the film or duration of the event. The clock and chandeliers were on the cusp of being tossed when curators Jytte Jensen and Ron Magliozzi salvaged them.
We then descend from the lit ground floor to the darkened subterranean levels where the movie theaters nest and magic happens. Blueprints and models midway down indicate Ferretti’s working practice. Particularly noteworthy are his dividing lines for elements to be built in 3D butt up against a green screen for digitally rendered CGI. As film viewers, we see them seamlessly.
The lowest level features a cinematic labyrinth, which echoes Ferreti’s own proclivities for intricate passageways and mazes, let alone the labyrinth of the mind. It is easy to get turned around in a labyrinth, but as Ferretti is our guide, we can rest assured that we will find our way to the end. This immersive 12-screen video maze is technically ingenious using Gerriet’s EVEN “front and rear” pure white screen fabric with identical distribution of image on both sides. Intentionally, the visitor can see projected images both from the correct orientation as you would seated in a cinema or in front of a monitor, and backwards. Upon seeing the screens for the first time just before the exhibition opening, Ferretti declared they would have to be changed since the material appeared too opaque. But once he saw the projection, he was amazed that the image penetrated to the verso without dimming or distortion. The BenQ MX822st projectors deliver short-throw, bright, sharp contrast images. No matter how many visitors are inside the labyrinth, no shadows are thrown.
Scenes from many of Ferretti’s films are shown, and with the clips clocking in at different lengths you’ll never see the same combination twice. (This is the first time that MoMA insisted that clearances from all actors and guilds be obtained, rather than simply the studios, so it is doubtful that this sort of undertaking will take place again.) Mirrors at the end of the wall seem to extend the labyrinth to infinity. In fact, the original 1939 Titus lobby by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durrell Stone had full-length mirrors [see photo at top].
The walls are lined with paintings, which is how Ferretti starts the process. He paints wide-screen canvases depicting key moments in the film with central perspective, pronounced light sources, grids and catacombs, often in a palette of dark reds and browns. The directors then respond to Ferretti’s concept, whether Fellini, Scorsese, Pasolini, Franco Zeffirelli, Anthony Minghella, Kenneth Branagh, Neil Jordan, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, Julie Taymor, Claude Chabrol, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Miller, or the many others for whom he has created worlds of the imagination for their films.
Ferretti divides his output into three categories, which are represented in the screenings of 22 features shown in MoMA’s theaters: the historic “period” films (Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, 1975 and The Aviator, 2004) “fantasy” (Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988 and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, 2011) and “contemporary” (Elio Petri’s Todo Modo, 1976 and Scorsese’s Casino, 1995).
What does Ferretti surround himself with in his studio to create these designs? Classic Italian modernism.
Charles Dickens would have been 200 today. Among the bicentennial celebrations of the noted Victorian writer, the Museum of London has been hosting an elaborate Dickens and Londonexhibition including a Dickensian street scene designed and built by set designer Simon Costin for its City Gallery. The "fantastical wintry vision of 19th century London" made entirely of cardboard and lit with hundreds of LED lights includes quite an array of Victorian buildings and winding alleyways. According to Costin, "My intention is to create a fantasy vision of London as it would have been glimpsed by Dickens on his nocturnal wanderings through the city. His essays are extremely evocative and I am using the text as my starting point and things will grow and develop from there. He has said that he felt like a child in a dream, ‘staring at the marvellousness of everything’. It is that marvellousness that I want to recreate." The window display closes this month, but if you're in London, the MoL's Dickens show keeps going through June. (Via Creative Review.)
But it turns out Dickens had his own eye for design as well. Hilary Macaskill recently wrote in the Guardian that the Victorian author had quite the penchant for interior design. She cites a 6,000 word article (you can become amazingly descriptive when paid by the word) he wrote about wallpaper and other decorations, where he remarks on the design of American wallcoverings from his recent visit in 1842 along with his own designs for wallpaper. Even in his home at 48 Doughty Street, Dickens enjoyed crafting the interior spaces down to the shade of pink trim and a set of decanters he picked up for "slight bargains." Read the entire article here and check out a slideshow of his home here.
Aging is a universal theme. ANCHISES, a new performance premiering at the Abrons Arts Center in New York tonight, explores that amid a striking set from design firm Harrison Atelier (HAt), who are also billed as co-collaborators with choreographer Jonah Bokaer. Central to this latest version of the Greek myth is Anchises' struggle to salvage memories from the burning city of Troy. This is reflected in the set design, where, according to HAt's website, "the set creates an environment that scripts the dance." Blocks, representing both the old and new city, are a central part of this multi-generational performance, and a recent New York Timesreview championed their use of medical tubing to subtly hint at the struggle of growing old.
Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, like many of their starchitect brethren, have not had an easy time of late in New York, from the stalling of 56 Leonard to the continuing reconfiguration of the Parrish Art Museum. (Yes, we know everybody's having a hard time of late, but that's a different story.) Well, the Basel-based architects just got their big break, as they say in the theater: a debut at the Met. No, they are not the latest hot shot firm to proffer an addition to the ever-transforming complex. Better yet, they've designed the set for a new production of Verdi's Atilla, which premiers tonight. We're not exactly sure what to make of the ghostly scenery that somehow floats above the chorus, from a forest picnic of sorts to post-apocalyptic-looking ruins (hopefully not the remnants of some failed project). Yet even in this unusual setting, the designer's unusual forms shine. Fashion doing about as well as architecture these days, does it come as a surprise that Miuccia Prada has lent her talents to the costumes? With any luck, Herzog & de Meuron will take over the Oscars next year.
David Rockwell's star turn at the Oscars last year won the designer considerable plaudits, so he's been asked to reprise his role, according to UPI. "We loved the look and feel that David created for the Oscar show last year," one of the producers said. "David is so creative and has such a great big-picture approach to set design," said another. The well-known interiors ace has done considerable amount of work on Broadway as well as the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are taped, so really, it's like a homecoming.
Possibly channeling a youth well spent watching late night reruns, David Rockwell envisioned a stage set for the 81st Academy Awards straight from the dazzling finale of 42nd Street wherein a woman's face dissolves into a crescent moon. And that would be almost as surreal as David Rockwell incorporating some paving ideas from the Piazza del Campidoglio.