Get an Intimate Look Into Spike Lee's Life at the Brooklyn Museum's Newest Exhibit
Do the right thing, and check out this immersive experience of more than 450 objects.
A few years ago, Spike Lee casually joked during an interview that he had enough personal ephemera to fill an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. That casual quip from the multihyphenate Brooklynite has become reality as the Brooklyn Museum debuts its newest exhibit, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” on October 7.
New Yorkers can take a never-before-seen peek behind the curtain of Lee’s life on the ground floor of the museum. “We wanted to not only look at who his creative inspirations are, but also get inside of Spike’s mind, to see him from a different perspective,” says Kimberli Gant, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum. “People know him as a director, but [they] don’t know this other side of him. He’s a collector, a preserver, and presenter of culture. Specifically, American history through a Black diasporic lens.”
Born in Atlanta in 1957, Lee moved to Brooklyn at a young age, first living with his family in Crown Heights, Cobble Hill, then Fort Greene. His debut film in 1986, She’s Gotta Have It, established the director’s indelible bond with the borough. Also in his impressive filmography portfolio are Brooklyn-set movies like Crooklyn, Clockers, and Do The Right Thing, which delve into themes like being Black in America, youth culture, politics, protest movements, sports, and more. From the Do The Right Thing mural in Bed-Stuy to his film studio headquarters, 40 Acres and a Mule, in Fort Greene, Lee’s presence can be seen and felt throughout the borough.
In the immersive installation visitors can explore an eclectic selection of more than 450 objects from Lee’s personal collection and the Brooklyn Museum archives. The overarching theme of the exhibit is the inspiration, cultural influences, and historical events that have driven the famed director throughout his life and career. Split into seven sections, the galleries feature photography, paintings, movie posters, handwritten letters, film clips, clothing, and more.
For Gant, exhibit highlights include an incredible African National Congress flag signed by Winnie and Nelson Mandela, as well as several, rare World War II posters that depict African American soldiers. “I remember learning about certain wartime posters in history class, like Rosie the Riveter, but you didn’t see people of color,” comments Gant. “It reminds us of all the people who sacrificed their lifeblood to show their patriotism to the United States, to prove their citizenship, sadly.”
Works by lauded Black American artists make up most of the artwork on the walls, with the museum labels reading names like Kehinde Wiley, Deborah Roberts, Elizabeth Catlett, Gordon Park, and James Van Der Zee. One of Lee’s paintings on display is a Norman Lewis painting called America The Beautiful. “It’s a nocturne looking at how [Lewis] interpreted KKK raids in the South. It’s a beautiful painting about a very traumatic moment in time. The ideas [in the painting] still very much so resonate, especially in the moment we’re in right now” shares Gant.
“We categorize people because we see certain points of view of them repeatedly. This exhibit gives you an opportunity to expand your mind and reminds you that [Spike Lee] is a multidimensional person. Nothing is a box. No one’s one-sided,” says Gant. “[Lee] shows us an expansive view of the world, that the world through the African diaspora is complex, it’s traumatic, it’s beautiful, it’s expressive. In the same way as his films, there’s a reverberation between the themes. It’s the past, present, and continuing into the future.”