New Exhibit Celebrates The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop

the art of the hollywood backdrop exhibit open on April 20, 2022

The first museum show dedicated to Hollywood’s painted backdrops, the grandest illusions ever created for the movies, makes its world premiere in South Florida (April 20 ‒ January 22) at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy honors the unsung heroes who created these monumental canvases for the camera, going back almost 100 years.

The exhibition is co-curated by Thomas A. Walsh and Karen L. Maness, who played pivotal roles among a group of passionate Hollywood insiders to salvage these American treasures. The result in the Museum’s galleries is a magical portal that takes the terms “large-scale,” “immersive,” and “virtual reality” to a whole new level.

“This exhibition of movie backdrops is not to be missed,” says Leonard Maltin, the renowned film critic, historian and author. “These monumental paintings were essential to moviemaking for almost a century, and were never meant to be seen by the public with the naked eye. Having this rare opportunity to experience these American masterpieces up close is long overdue.”

This exhibition of 22 scenic backdrops, made for the movies between 1938 and 1968, celebrates an art form nearly forgotten, and is a well-deserved moment in the spotlight for the dozens of unidentified studio artists. Their uncredited craftsmanship made scenes of Mount Rushmore, Ben-Hur’s Rome, the Von Trapp Family’s Austrian Alps, and Gene Kelly’s Paris street dance possible.

"Singin' In the Rain" hollywood backdrop

In addition to 20 backdrops on loan from the Texas Performing Arts Hollywood Backdrop Collection at the University of Texas, a 1952 backdrop for Singin’ in the Rain and the tapestry backdrop for Marie Antoinette (1938) are on loan from the Motion Picture Academy in Los Angeles. Museum visitors will be able to take selfies in front of the original backdrop where Donald O’Connor performed his brilliant comic performance of Make’ Em Laugh, including a recreation of the sofa and mannequin from the famous scene.

visitors take in the works at the Art of the Hollywood Backdrop exhibit in Boca Raton

One of the most memorable experiences for visitors to the Museum will be the opportunity to see up close the actual brushstrokes and dynamic hand-painted techniques that were used by these artists, to create the necessary effects they developed for the camera lens. Not to mention the sheer size of the pieces.

“These are literally some of the largest paintings ever created in the world, similar to cyclorama paintings,” shares Walsh. “Aside from the technicians working in the soundstages, no one else has set eyes upon this collection.”

These creations were painted for the camera lens itself, not for the human eye. It is a very impressionistic style of painting ― not really photo-realism, but it snaps together as photo-realistic when viewed from a distance. Up close they look totally different. When visitors to the Museum take selfies with their phone cameras, the resulting image will look very different from what they see in person in the gallery.

“This show is about the joy of re-living something you grew up with, that you always thought was real. It’s about getting as close to that magical moment in time as you can. Being in the same space with that giant, familiar scene,” adds Walsh. “It is difficult for people to get their minds around the awesome size of these magical spaces, until they see them in person. People are often shocked and surprised by the scale and visual impact of these massive creations.”

For full details on Art of the Hollywood Backdrop: Cinema’s Creative Legacy, and to purchase tickets, visit the Boca Raton Museum of Art website, here.

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