Looking for sources of inspiration in the life of any artist, especially one working in as collaborative a medium as film, can be risky. There’s almost never a one-to-one correlation between life and art. However, in taking a more holistic view of an artist’s interests by assembling the things that have meaning to them, certain themes emerge. 

A thematic relationship between art and artist is exactly what the Brooklyn Museum’s recently launched “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” is all about, featuring over 450 objects (and of course a Brooklyn stoop) from Lee’s collection. It includes the expected (vintage movie posters, costumes, and memorabilia) but also objects from Lee’s interests in art, historical artifacts, first editions, Gordon Parks and James Van Der Zee photographs, and, according to curator Kimberli Gant, “a whole Knicks area.” 

Gant told IndieWire that the scope and breadth of “Creative Sources” arose out of finding thematic, organizational patterns and structures between the objects with which Spike Lee lives and works and the conflicts and challenges his films confront. “Once you see his films, and then you go and see what he’s living with all the time, you go, ‘OK. I’m seeing relationships here. I’m seeing echoes across these various things in different ways,’” Gant said. 

One of the most direct relationships is Lee’s interest in and research of Malcolm X. Like Lee’s epic 1992 film profiling the activist, the amount of artistic representations and material coverage offers up Lee’s gift for holding the different facets and conflicts that comprise a single individual. “He’s trying to show you different moments,” Gant said. “We’re so used to seeing people in one way and he’s adding to that narrative by having different materials about a person that I think the average person maybe doesn’t even know exists.”  

Gant found examples and representations of X with Martin Luther King Jr., more intimate personal family moments, moments with political figures, and artistic renderings that emphasized different aspects of the activist’s personality. “The fact that Spike also had a first edition of Alex Haley’s ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ the documentary that was done in the ‘70s, you get why he made that film. He’s been thinking about this man for a very long time in various ways,” Gant said. 

Piece from “Spike Lee: Creative Sources”

But most of “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” contains influences that speak to themes across Lee’s work. Gant found that one of the challenges, and then the opportunity, of the show was that so many objects could live in multiple sections of the exhibit simultaneously. The problem of organizing can be solved by distilling a collection down to its essential essences, as did the recent Academy Museum exhibit of Lee’s inspirations, or by expanding. Gant and her team chose the objects on display in the Brooklyn Museum around seven themes related to Lee’s life and work, structured to move a visitor through the director’s mind as filmmakers move through a movie set — and one with continuity. 

“We took a lot of inspiration from [Lee being a film director],” Gant said. “There’s this bit of a meta narrative because a lot of the objects could be in multiple sections simultaneously. So that gave us some flexibility to put representations of individuals or time periods or locations throughout.”  

Lee’s work is constantly tugging at the thread of the American experience in the 20th century. So Gant and her team created the flow of the show for visitors to experience how history actually affects people, in cycles and echoes and coming up in non-chronological order, as opposed to how it’s taught. 

Piece from “Spike Lee: Creative Sources”

“You don’t have to feel as if you need an art degree to enjoy it. I really would love if different generations come [to the show] together, because I think there’s going to be a lot of individuals that certain folks will know and others won’t. So I love the idea that there could be some dialogues across the generations and [for visitors] to share this communal knowledge,” Gant said. 

The size of the collection on display speaks to the breadth of the knowledge that informs Lee’s passion for storytelling in history, art, film, and, of course, sports. The Knicks faithful will find plenty to love in “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” including framed newspaper clippings capturing Lee yelling courtside. “Spike has original signed jerseys from the ‘69-’70 championship game, nets, paints of some of his favorite players, books,” Gant said. “You will be immersed in a mini-Knicks moment when you come see this show.” 

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