Artwork museums have a very robust time coping with Hollywood product in a coherent and illuminating manner. Mass tradition and artwork tradition are usually not the identical factor, so the standard curatorial methods typically run aground.
The newest instance is “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts,” newly opened on the Huntington Library, Artwork Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The plan is to indicate how twentieth century Hollywood checked out 18th century Rococo Europe in the hunt for visible sources for every part from Sleeping Magnificence’s Disneyland fort to celluloid Cinderella’s ballgown.
And, particularly for “Beauty and the Beast” — lo and behold, simply in time for this week’s thirtieth anniversary TV particular reviving Disney’s beloved 1991 musical animation spectacle on ABC-TV and Disney+. (Apparently, the + is for the additional 12 months of stated anniversary.) Isn’t that fortunate?
Or, on the very least cheesy, form of just like the cartoon wall murals within the galleries the place the present is put in. Swooping staircases and ormolu furnishings provide bland painted context for a comparatively small handful of 18th century French and German ornamental objects — teapots, candlesticks, dinnerware, a tall clock and such — plus engravings, guide illustrations, poster graphics, some vacationer souvenirs, a number of movie clips and idea artwork for assorted Disney initiatives, together with theme parks in Paris, Hong Kong and Anaheim.
It’s largely piffle. The single second of pleasure comes on the finish, when two pairs of wildly loopy “tower vases” for potpourri, every practically two ft tall, present up.
They’re attributed to sculptor and Sèvres porcelain designer Etienne-Maurice Falconet, finest recognized for his colossal, 1782 bronze statue of Peter the Nice on rearing horseback in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Huntington acquired one pair of the vases in 1927, the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York acquired the opposite pair in 1956. The architectural towers sport cupolas, buttresses, dormers and booming cannons, and so they’re embellished with floral garlands, war-trophy cartouches and jewel-toned colours. We’re within the visible neighborhood of Sleeping Magnificence’s fictive fort, which was largely impressed by Neuschwanstein, an precise Nineteenth-century fort within the Bavarian Alps.
The present, organized by the Met and the Wallace Assortment in London, the place it has already been seen, has been scaled manner down for presentation on the Huntington. New York’s record of 60 works of 18th-century European ornamental arts and design has been drastically minimize to San Marino’s 19, now padded with a giant show of the Huntington’s personal Sèvres dinner set. The dishware pyramid is topped by a twirly candle-holder meant to place you in thoughts of Kevin Lima’s snappy design for Lumière, the film’s chief of the family workers who has been remodeled right into a full of life candelabrum by a merciless enchantress.
In some respects, this a lot smaller model is a profit. We’re speaking right here of neither an abundance of absorbing artwork nor revelatory cultural rocket science. In spite of everything, for those who’re going to supply an animated film telling an 18th century European romantic fable, seeking to 18th century European artwork for visible concepts isn’t precisely a stroke of genius. Between Charles Perrault writing ethical fictions in France and the Brothers Grimm spinning parables in Germany, the period represents the zenith of the fairy story style. What else would you do?
Once I noticed the present on the Met within the spring, the place its skinny premise was stretched interminably in room after room, my eyes quickly glazed over. Seen one gold curlicue trim from a candelabrum transferred to the inside design of the cinematic Beast’s Citadel, seen ‘em all. At the Huntington, smaller is definitely better.
One problem with the show is that none of the objects in it was a specific inspiration for the animator’s caricatures. All the pieces is generic, imprecise and loosey-goosey. Mrs. Potts, motherly head of the Beast’s kitchen and cheerfully drawn in pastel by Chris Sanders, is simply vaguely like that fats German faience instance of a teapot on view in a close-by vitrine. Lumière is nowhere close to as ornate because the florid Huntington candelabrum.
Shut sufficient? Not likely, besides superficially — however you get the concept.
The distinction between generic and particular is key to the distinction between mass tradition and artwork tradition, however the present doesn’t deal with the vital distinction. As a substitute, you’re left pondering that the museum is probably unintentionally fluffing up legitimacy for Hollywood cartoons with a creative pedigree — which Disney doesn’t even want. The animated rags-to-riches fantasy of one thing like “Beauty and the Beast” is fairly exceptional in its personal proper.
This was Walt Disney’s thought of bringing European excessive tradition to the American plenty. Having failed at that — see the tumultuous saga of “Fantasia,” which the film critics largely cherished and the classical music critics largely hated (“execrable,” stated Igor Stravinsky, whose music was featured within the movie) — he invented one thing distinctive within the course of.
It’s in all probability instructive that on his European travels, Disney collected knickknacks, not artwork, to deliver again to Burbank. The present has shows of miniature furnishings, tiny instruments and memento dishes that he purchased. Gewgaws had been as a lot an inspiration to him because the superlative workshops of Sèvres or Fragonard’s studio.
One shocking omission: No lavishly embellished snuff packing containers are within the present, regardless that fermented, pulverized tobacco from Europe’s plundered colonies was the addictive drug of selection for idle aristocrats. It appears a missed alternative, given the generations of American customers getting excessive to indulge the trendy ritual of watching the dancing hippos and twirling mushrooms of “Fantasia.”
Additionally lacking: the unique present’s single biggest object.
Jean Honoré Fragonard’s well-known frothy portray of a woodland dalliance, “The Swing” (circa 1767), the Wallace Assortment’s signature canvas, was initially featured as a mannequin for a gap sequence in “Beauty and the Beast” however later minimize from the movie. It additionally acquired minimize from the shrunken exhibition, the place it may need added some readability.
How? The luminous portray’s full if not often used title is “The Happy Chances of the Swing,” as a result of the extraordinary image exhibits a younger woman’s suggestively pink gown blowing up within the breeze as she rides a velvet swing in a sumptuously enclosed backyard. The “happy chance” is an sudden alternative for her lover, who kicks again mendacity inclined within the bushes beneath her, to get a gander of the goal of his ardor hidden inside all these billowing petticoats.
Overlook Disney. The true Hollywood parallel is Billy Wilder providing the tease of Marilyn Monroe cooling her privates on the breezy subway grating in “The Seven Year Itch.” Joyful possibilities of the Uptown MTA.
Eighteenth century French ornamental artwork is nothing if not dissolutely bawdy — phrases not typically appended to Disney’s artwork, which neutered French ornamental arts as a lot because it animated them. The sensually, sexually stimulating indulgences of 1 are about 180 levels from the chaste, G-rated commitments of the opposite. The variations between the 2 are what counts, however this present goes for the floor similarities between artwork tradition and mass tradition. The forthright intentions of every are omitted.
No intercourse, no medicine — the inspiration is actual however shallow, not deep. Whereas sometimes amusing, so is that this exhibition.
‘Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts’
The place: Boone Gallery, Huntington Library, Artwork Museum, and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Street, San Marino
When: 10 a.m. to five p.m. Wednesdays by means of Mondays. Closed Tuesdays. By means of March 27.
Value: $13 to $29
Information: (626) 405-2100, www.huntington.org