Aug 172015

While today’s rapid-fire technological advances are changing film-making with consumer interactive platforms such as Periscope, there was a time in the history of Hollywood film-making that was just as exciting & tumultuous. And that was the 1930s, which is the subject of the next PEM/PM, Aug. 20, 6-9pm at the Peabody Essex Museum.

PEM 1930sInspired by PEM’s exhibition American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, the evening celebrates film and Benton’s artistic relationship with the motion picture industry.

It was “The Golden Age of Hollywood” and according to AMC’s website “The 30s was also the decade of the sound and color revolutions and the advance of the ‘talkies’, and the further development of film genres (gangster films, musicals, newspaper-reporting films, historical biopics, social-realism films, lighthearted screwball comedies, westerns and horror to name a few).”

Silent stars who dominated the screens faded away unable to transition to scripts that required more acting skills, to be replaced by new stars on the horizon, such as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, John Wayne, Clark Gable and Shirley Temple.

The growing importance & interest in the film industry to consumers spurred innovation. The first daily newspaper for the film industry, The Hollywood Reporter, had its debut in 1930. The world’s first drive-in theatre opened in Camden, N.J. in June, 1933 .

If you’re interested in learning more about 1930’s Hollywood, the AMC site is extensive.

As far as the evening’s activities during PEM/PM, highlights will include art making with film negatives, a photo booth equipped to bring out everyone’s inner movie star, a food tasting with popcorn from Salem’s favorite E.W. Hobbs and a cocktail tasting and talk with author and mixologist Warren Bobrow.

In the Atrium, you will find hot Jazz and swing tunes by the Carubia Brass Bands featuring Jim Fryer.

West_locustIn conjunction with PEM’s summer film series, Benton and the Big Screen, guests can watch the film adaptation of Nathanael West’s critically acclaimed novel about 1930s Hollywood, The Day of the Locust (Rated R, 144 minutes). Film expert Michael Dow will introduce the film and join a discussion following the film with PEM lead interpreter Emily Fry and curator Sarah Chasse

For those of you who haven’t yet seen American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood, this is the time to experience the exhibit which explores how the motion picture industry influenced and ignited Benton’s creative imagination. Melding Old Master European painting traditions with Hollywood’s cinematic and production techniques, Benton reinvented 20th-century American narratives and captivated the public with his signature brand of visual storytelling.

THBPEM’s exhibition, the first retrospective of Benton’s art in 25 years, gathers more than 100 works, including the artist’s paintings, murals, drawings, prints and illustrated books. The exhibition, which closes Sept. 7, pairs curated clips from Hollywood movies with Benton’s art from the 1920s through the 1960s to take visitors on a journey through America’s myths and into its national character.

PEM’s evening parties — with music and dance performances, food tastings, lectures and art-making stations have become a monthly tradition since being initiated in the summer of 2011. Free admission for members and Salem residents (with ID), while nonmembers pay $10 at the door. There is always a cash bar and a special small plates menu available from the Hawthorne Hotel.

For more information, call 866‐745‐1876 or visit PEM at .

Jun 142015

THBExpansive murals, vertical spirals, size changes that make you feel like you are looking up & down into a scene, these are the calling cards of a man once called America’s best-known contemporary painter, Thomas Hart Benton— and the subject of a special Peabody Essex Museum exhibit.

In fact, this is the first major exhibition on Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) in more than 25 years and the first ever to explore important connections between Benton’s art and the movies. American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood was organized by the PEM in collaboration with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, Missouri) and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth). It will be at PEM through September 7th in the Special Exhibition Galleries.

Benton’s art & style will also be the theme for “Epic Adventures,” this month’s PEM/PM late night evening party.

But first some background on Mr. Benton. According to PEM, Benton became acutely aware of storytelling’s shift toward motion pictures after working briefly in the silent film industry, and “developed a cinematic style of painting that melded European art historical traditions and modern movie production techniques.”

In paintings, murals, drawings, prints and illustrated books, Benton reinvented national narratives for 20th-century America and captivated the public with his visual storytelling.

Benton’s story is fascinating, the ups / the downs (an informal survey of museum-goers at all the participating institutions revealed that only 25% had even heard of Benton), how he perfected his technique and how he was received are all part of this PEM podcast.

And, if you have the time, this WBUR (90.9 FM, Boston’s National Public radio news station) feature story provides extra insights.

For example, besides the paintings to see in this exhibit, there is something you can actually touch. In the WBUR report, it is mentioned that “the artist fashioned clay models of characters and scenery that he would light up like tiny Hollywood film sets, then painting them. There’s a replica of a surviving Benton clay model (or maquettes) in the PEM show. The original was too delicate and valuable to ship, so in a first for the museum, curators actually created a 3-D print.”

This is interesting in itself as Benton once said, ‘I feel my paintings in my hands.”

The WBUR story also mentioned that Benton constantly traveled; his road trips sought out authentic stories, scenes and characters to populate his works.

As the great American road trip, from Easy Rider to National Lampoon’s Vacation, still inspires a sense of freedom and exploration, PEM/PM for June 18 from 6-9 pm invites you to follow artist Benton’s travels across America with map and postcard art, real-life road stories, a travel-themed beer tasting and gallery talks.

Also featured at this month’s PEM/PM evening are folk music sessions by Dan Blakeslee and Jennifer Evans, a visit from the Mobile Museum of American Artifacts and an author talk / signing with Andre Dubus III.

As always, a cash bar and refreshments available; members and Salem residents (with ID) free, nonmembers $10 at the door for PEM/PM.

The American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood exhibition was made possible in part by Bank of America and a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence. The National Endowment for the Arts and Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation provided generous support. Christie’s provided in-kind support. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum also provided support.

For more info, go to PEM website or call 978-745-9500. The Peabody Essex Museum is located at East India Square (161 Essex St) Salem, Massachusetts.

(Cover photo “Bootleggers” Art © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)