Executive Producer Barbara Wiedemann talks with Art Howard, the producer/director/photographer/editor of Rodin: The Cantor Foundation Gift to the North Carolina Museum of Art. The video is featured in the Museum’s iPad app Rodin, released this week and available free on the App Store. The video and highlights of the Rodin collection are also available on the Museum’s website.
BW: What intrigued you about doing a documentary video of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Rodin collection?
AH: The fact that there were so many new angles. The relationship with a Rodin collector and benefactor to the Museum. Curator David Steel tending and nurturing this collection. Architect Thomas Phifer and director Larry Wheeler working with landscape architect Walt Havener and planning director Dan Gottlieb to develop a new home for the permanent collection. I’m a native to Raleigh and grew up at the Museum. It’s been fascinating to watch the NCMA evolve over time.
BW: The video also provides a glimpse behind the scenes at the thoughtful work being done by conservators, registrars, exhibition designers, and art handlers to bring the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Court and Garden to life.
AH: Yes, the back story is compelling, but you may not know to ask about it if you aren’t familiar with the workings of an art museum.
BW: The video also documents a moment in time. We’ll never have The Three Shades arriving on a truck and being transported through West Building and out into the Rodin Garden again. It’s nice to have that moment captured permanently.
AH: And the permanence of these gifts to the state of North Carolina makes the story so relevant. The Rodin collection is here to stay. North Carolinians can visit the museum 50 years from now and wonder how these sculptures came to Raleigh—and the video answers some of those questions. That’s why the iPad app is so important, too. It’s another vehicle for sharing information about art with a very global public (at this writing, people in 38 countries, including the Netherlands, China, Russia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, and Kuwait, just to name a few, have downloaded the free iPad app).
BW: Do you have a favorite moment in the video?
AH: I like watching people get excited about what they do, whether they’re a farmer, a surgeon, or in this case a curator or a conservator. The look on people’s faces when those crates full of Rodins came off the art delivery trucks was a special moment. Another moment was getting to sit down and talk with Iris Cantor about how passionate she and her husband were about building this collection.
BW: Yes, one of my favorite moments is Iris Cantor telling the story of her late husband Bernie first seeing The Hand of God as a marble sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and how that sparked what he called his “magnificent obsession.” AH: What I love about directing and producing documentaries is how everything relates back to people. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it takes an artist and a viewer responding to that artist. The building didn’t put itself up. The collection didn’t form itself. There are teams of people working to make all of those things happen. As a documentary filmmaker I can bring all of those elements together and help people understand and appreciate the art in a new way. Hopefully we’ve created pathways into the Museum and the art that weren’t there before.
BW: Are there challenges to capturing bronzes on film?
AH: NCMA photographers Karen Malinofski and Christopher Ciccone did a great job working with a variety of sizes, textures, and nooks and crannies within the collection, and it shows. The light in the new building made my job easier. It bathes the bronzes in light in a special way.
BW: I know you spent a whole lot of time at the Museum while it was being built and after the art was in place. There’s a thoughtfulness to your approach that is made visible in the video. The sculptures and the people whose story we tell are very lovingly filmed.
AH: The only way that you can show someone looking comfortable on camera is to spend a lot of time with them and develop a trusting relationship between the camera and that person. Maybe that’s true of art and the camera as well?! Everyone involved was so passionate about what they do, and I hope that comes out.
BW: For technical people who might be interested, what kind of cameras are you using?
AH: The still photos that the staff took were done with a medium-sized camera to capture high-resolution stills for the book and the app. For the filming we used digital single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras because the resolution is high and they’re small and easy to maneuver in and out of tight spaces. You have to be careful about what you’re bumping into at the Museum! We needed to keep the gear and the crew to a minimum but still come up with great visuals. We did use a dolly in the gallery space. We didn’t set up track because of the oak floor, but we used a “doorway” dolly and tried to light each piece to make it look on video like it does to the human eye as a visitor in this unique, naturally-lit setting.
BW: The video is an interweaving of facets of the story, which gives you multiple entry points into the works of Auguste Rodin depending on what you’re interested in.
AH: You can enter the story through one door and find out there are lots of other rooms to discover.
BW: Which reminds me of the multiple entry points into our permanent collection in West Building. You can literally come upon the Rodin sculptures by strolling through the garden, or come in through the front entryway and follow a passageway of classical sculptures toward the Rodin gallery.
AH: To continue the metaphor, both the building and the video give you places to stop and ponder, and places to move through more quickly, opportunities to make new connections between art and nature, and see relationships between art. Hopefully we’ve captured the sense of discovery that is inherent in a visit to the Rodin collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Barbara Wiedemann is Associate Director of Publications at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Art Howard is the owner of ARTWORK, Inc., a multimedia production company specializing in video, stills, and stock.