It's not your typical art show. Yes, there are over fifty pieces of framed art on display, spread over five-thousand square feet of exhibit space. Over one million people have seen it since the exhibition opened at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC back in October of 1997. And it's quite likely at least that many more will see the show as it continues to travels around the country over the next several months. What kind of art show is it? Well, if this is any clue, it didn't open at the National Gallery in Washington but next door at the Air and Space museum, and it's not about OLD masters but JEDI masters. It features the art work of Ralph McGuarrie, the artists in charge of giving visual form to George Lucas' wildest imaginings. It's modern art like no other modern art you ever saw before in your life, unless you're a Star Wars fan, in which case this showcase of props, costumes, sets, special effects, video clips, and a few old fashioned paintings of new fashioned science fiction is still pretty impressive.
Don't expect to visit any KIND of traditional art gallery. You enter down a hallway straight from the Death Star to the disembodied voice of James Earl Jones as his screen embodiment, Darth Vader, lurks in a showcase nearby. At the end of the hall is a wall-size mural of a galaxy far, far away. Just beyond is Jabba the Hut, a gigantic slug on a rug, and not far away, a Wampa Ice Creature, one of the additions Lucas made in special effects form to the updated re-release of "The Empire Strikes Back." It's all rather overwhelming as all around one is bombarded by sights and sounds of the four movies this exhibit celebrates. Music and video clips are at your fingertips. Never before has it been so dramatically underlined the interrelatedness of the arts as they are drawn together by the movie industry that can today make "real" what a generation ago couldn't even be imagined. Make that TWO generations ago, as the Star Wars (quadrilogy?) now makes it's mark on an audience that wasn't even born when it first hit the silver screen TWENTY-TWO YEARS ago.
Anyone who has ever dealt with the creative minds of young people, regardless of their age, struggling to make their first marks in art, can tell you, the science fiction genre is a MAJOR source of ideas and inspirations for these aspiring artists. Whether it's dogfights between X-wing fighters and Federation interceptors, or seductive depictions of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, "teenagers" of all ages have claimed this art as their own. Included in this exhibit is some 30 mannequins, 35 production models, and numerous set pieces giving one the feeling of moving back and forth between museum and sound stage--the present and long, long ago. And lingering over it all is the aura of classical mythology, of good versus evil, which Lucas has borrowed from any number of ancient cultures and beliefs. And for those wanting to take some "art" home with them, there's always the mega-marketing gift shop just beyond the last star-trooper. The show is currently playing to standing room only crowds in San Diego Museum of Art before coming soon to a museum near you.