Courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources
October 6, 2023–February 4, 2024
The Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Pkwy
Brooklyn, NY 11238

The Brooklyn Museum has announced a major exhibition exploring the people, places, and ideas that inspired celebrated filmmaker Spike Lee. Spike Lee: Creative Sources will be on display from October 6, 2023 to February 4, 2024 in the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery on the fifth floor of the museum.

Lee is one of the most influential and prolific American directors, known for transforming the landscape and art of contemporary filmmaking. In the last 40 years, he has directed, written, and produced numerous films, commercials, music videos, and recorded plays. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957, but was raised in Brooklyn, New York, causing his persona to become synonymous with the borough.

This is the Brooklyn Museum’s first major exhibition on Lee, and the exhibition will feature an immersive installation of objects that have been important in Lee’s creative process. The exhibition is organized around seven themes: Black history and culture, Brooklyn, sports, music, cinema history, politics, and family–to make connections between the people, places, and ideas behind Lee’s creative endeavors. Spike Lee: Creative Sources is organized by Kimberli Gant, Modern and Contemporary Art Curator.

“Spike Lee: Creative Sources offers a fresh perspective on a cultural icon, focusing on the individuals and influences that have shaped Spike Lee’s body of work, which is so well known today,” said Gant. “By making Lee’s collection accessible to the public, this showcase celebrates his legacy while honoring his deep connection to Brooklyn, a place that has been an integral part of his storytelling.”

Photo by Anders Krusberg. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources features over three hundred objects that represent the wide range of mediums that inspire Lee, including historical photographs, paintings, album covers, movie posters, letters, first-edition books, costumes, and film memorabilia. These objects are organized into seven themes, and each theme includes a clip from one of Lee’s groundbreaking films.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources also includes works from prominent Black American artists, including Kehinde Wiley, Deborah Roberts, Elizabeth Catlett, Michael Ray Charles, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee. Similarly, depictions of Black American and African figures who have impacted Lee are featured, including Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Malcolm X, Jacob Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Prince.

The first section of the exhibition focuses on the theme of Black history and culture, including Michael Ray Charles’s satirical artwork Forever Free (Bamboozled) (1997) and Lee’s provocative film Bamboozled (2000), which was inspired by the painting. Images of Harlem and public figures Lena Horne, Jacob Lawrence, and James Baldwin are also featured in the section, weaving a narrative about self-expression, community, and activists who condemned segregation in favor of a better world.

Lee is a Brooklyn icon, so it’s fitting that the second section centers on how the borough shaped his creativity. Objects in this section include photographs by David Lee (Lee’s younger brother) and Tseng Kwong Chi, film posters, set dressings, and props from Lee’s Brooklyn-based films, such as Do the Right Thing (1989) and She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Lee’s Brooklyn-based film company, 40 Acres and a Mule, is also included through banners and posters.

The next section focuses on the historical accomplishments of Black athletes, including a commissioned painting by Kehinde Wiley of Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson. Tennis rackets belonging to Arthur Ashe and Serena Williams are also featured in this section, along with David Levinthal’s photographs of Michael Jordan and Willie Mays.

Lee got his love of music from his parents, and the next section includes portraits of early to mid-twentieth-century musical luminaries, such as Aaron Copland and Frank Sinatra. Music instruments owned by legendary musicians are also featured in this section, including Prince’s guitar and Branford Marsalis’ saxophone.

Lee acknowledges how past filmmakers influenced his work, even though he developed his own visual language and technique. The cinema history section presents vintage film posters and photographs, showcasing the wide range of words that inspire Lee.

Lee’s films are inherently political. In the politics section, World War II and Vietnam War propaganda posters are displayed to show the stereotypical imagery of Black American soldiers. These posters are displayed alongside posters of Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna (2008) and Da 5 Bloods (2020).

The last theme, family, makes up the final section of Spike Lee: Creative Sources. Family has always been important to Lee, as displayed by photographic portraits of Lee and his siblings, parents, and grandparents, as well as artistic depictions of family by Elizabeth Catlett and William H. Johnson. Lee’s professional family is also included here.

Spike Lee: Creative Sources will be on view Wednesdays through Sundays from 11am to 6pm.

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