Brooklyn Museum patrons can plunge themselves into Spike Lee’s inspirations this fall. Spike Lee: Creative Sources, an immersive exhibit unveiling people, locations, and concepts contributing to the director’s dynamic storytelling, opens October 6.
Kimberli Gant, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, organized the exhibition, with support from Indira A. Abiskaroon, Curatorial Assistant Modern and Contemporary Art. It explores the themes of “Black American history and culture, Brooklyn, sports, music, cinema history, and family.” Creative scribbles, Academy Awards, and set memorabilia pour out the legacy of decades of Lee’s exemplary artistry into the Museum’s galleries. Images of Nola Darling, Ron Stallworth, Lena Horne, and Lysistrata mingle with the work of Deborah Roberts, Elizabeth Catlett, Michael Ray Charles, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee on the walls.
Kehinde Wiley’s portrayal of the trailblazing Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson reminds guests of his love for sports and his connection to the borough.
“By making Lee’s collection accessible to the public, this showcase celebrates his legacy while honoring his deep connection to Brooklyn, a place that has been an integral part of his storytelling,” said Gant.
The museum redesigned their ubiquitous merch for the exhibition. Crooklyn insignia is available on mugs, t-shirts, pins, and other merchandise. Caps fashioned after one of Lee’s most iconic characters, Mars Blackmon, line the entrance to the gift shop. But the story of the show goes far beyond the place Foxy Brown called the “thoroughest borough.”
“You can’t walk to this and say everything is Brooklyn. There’s too much work,” Lee told ESSENCE at the opening. “There are things that are Brooklynesque. But this is, really, this is about the world.”
The exhibition includes a number of gifts sent to Lee from athletic, political, and cultural luminaries, including Serena Williams and Lebron James.
It does not just highlight Lee’s life and work. It amplifies the journey that had to be taken for a Spike Lee to arrive into the world. His family members’ educations and occupations are highlighted to explain how the director developed a deep affection for music, self-expression, and impressive personal style.
It explains how he could tap into the mindset of characters populating the Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Southside of Chicago, and the countryside of Vietnam. You see how he acquired his love of Prince and Nike. The person who inspired M. Night Shyamalan, Ryan Coogler, Issa Rae, and more leaps off each of the 468 objects presented. “I mean, one of my most dear pieces is the original ANC flag signed to me by Winnie and Nelson Mandela,” Lee added.
Elements of the Spike Lee cinematic universe converged in the halls of the Museum. Nia Long, Laurence Fishburne, Ruth Carter, Roger Guenveur Smith, and John Leguizamo were soaking up Lee’s legacy as they traveled from room to room. Sunni Hostin and Don Lemon showed up to celebrate as well. They beamed in front of the fluorescent pink backdrops and illuminated screens bearing the director’s name around the room.
Museums have not always recognized the impact of Black cultural contributions. “We know there’s a history of museums leaving us out. I’m not naming any names,” said Lee.Institutions reactively mounted shows across the country after outrage over the chokehold murder of George Floyd resulted in a tidal wave of cultural splashback. Floyd’s death mirrored the slaying of Radio Raheem in Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing. He is represented in a Phresh Laundry painting in the exhibition.
Lee has always been outspoken about the need for Black art to be seen and respected in his work and in the media. Shows like Lee’s, Brooklyn Public Library’s Jay-Z retrospective Book of Hov, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s upcoming review of The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism are engaging with Black creativity in a deeper way.
He expressed appreciation for the seeds of change blooming on the Eastern Parkway with a smile.
“I’m just happy that we’re able to do this here in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, New York.”
Spike Lee: Creative Sources is on display at the Brooklyn Museum from October 6, 2023–February 4, 2024.