The Brooklyn Museum will celebrate the work and life of the borough’s most famous film-maker, Spike Lee, in a sprawling exhibition opening this autumn. It will bring together more than 300 objects related to Lee’s films, artefacts from his personal collection and complementary Modern and contemporary art including pieces by Kehinde Wiley, James Van Der Zee, Elizabeth Catlett and Deborah Roberts.
Lee has become indelibly linked to Brooklyn since the 1980s, when he started making films and music videos set in the borough that blended youth culture, Black history, sports, politics, music and protest movements in works that were funny, endearing, often controversial and oozing with style. While his film-making has since taken him to locales far and wide, from Manhattan to Chicago, New Orleans and Vietnam, he remains forever associated with Brooklyn. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks (named after the unfulfilled promise US authorities made to the formerly enslaved after the US Civil War), is still based in the borough’s Fort Greene neighbourhood, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant block where he shot much of what may still be his most famous film was renamed “Do the Right Thing Way” in its honour in 2015.
Spike Lee: Creative Sources (6 October 2023-4 February 2024) has been curated by Kimberli Gant and Indira A. Abiskaroon, the museum’s curator and curatorial assistant, respectively, for Modern and contemporary art. In addition to works from the museum’s collection it will feature many objects that belong to Lee, some of which were recently on view in Los Angeles at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in the show Director’s Inspiration: Spike Lee. The Brooklyn Museum exhibition will be organised into seven sections devoted to Black history and culture, Brooklyn, sports, music, the history of cinema, family and politics.
The exhibition “offers a fresh perspective on a cultural icon, focusing on the individuals and influences that have shaped Spike Lee’s body of work”, Gant said in a statement. “By making Lee’s collection accessible to the public, this showcase celebrates his legacy while honouring his deep connection to Brooklyn, a place that has been an integral part of his storytelling.”
In addition to set materials from favourite early films like Do the Right Thing (1989) and Lee’s 1986 feature debut She’s Gotta Have It, the exhibition will include Michael Ray Charles’s 1997 sculpture (Forever Free) Bamboozled, which served as inspiration for the 2000 film Bamboozled, a grimly prescient satire of reality television, internet culture and appropriation. The section on sports will feature Wiley’s portrait of Jackie Robinson, the first Black athlete to compete in Major League Baseball. The galleries on music will include one of Prince’s distinctive guitars in the shape of his “Love” symbol, while a section on the history of cinema will feature vintage posters for films by directors who inspired Lee, like Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa.
The show devoted to Lee will likely be a crowd-pleaser compared to the Brooklyn Museum’s current headline-grabbing exhibition, It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby (until 24 September), which has been assailed by critics while also attracting huge crowds. Spike Lee: Creative Sources will be the museum’s first show devoted to cinema in many years; in 2002 the Brooklyn Museum infamously hosted a travelling exhibition of props and costumes from the Star Wars films.
- Spike Lee: Creative Sources, 6 October 2023-4 February 2024, Brooklyn Museum, New York