In another clever move to use the currently empty Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas, the vast stage will turn into an exhibition space for 12 historic — and enormous — hand-painted film backdrops.
“Behind the Scenes: The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop” goes on view Feb. 11 and continues through March 21. Reservations for timed admission tickets are available beginning 10 a.m. Jan. 30 at texasperformingarts.org.
Like other theaters, the 3000-seat Bass Concert Hall has remained closed since last March because of the pandemic.
“This exhibition continues our commitment to offering new creative experiences during the pandemic,” said Bob Bursey, executive director of Texas Performing Arts, UT’s presenting program. In August, Bursey announced a unique residency program, in collaboration with Austin arts organization Fusebox, that granted selected theater artists access to Texas Performing Arts vacant venues as studio and production space.
“This show (of historic backdrops) is an opportunity for a change of scene — something I think we could all use right now,” Bursey said.
The mid-century film backdrops come from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio and have not been on public exhibit before.
Texas Performing Arts actually has 50 MGM backdrops. They were donated to the UT performing arts center by the Art Director’s Guild Archives as part of its Backdrop Recovery Project, an effort to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s motion picture scenic artists. In all, the guild saved 207 backdrops, donating them to museums, motion picture archives, and academic institutions like UT.
The show is curated by Karen L. Maness, Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts and UT faculty member in Theater & Dance and Arts & Entertainment Technology.
“UT Austin now owns the largest educational collection of Hollywood Motion Picture backdrops in the world,” Maness said in press materials. “Created in the guarded secrecy of MGM’s studio system and designed to transport audiences to far off locations while filming on soundstages in Culver City, these backdrops have never been accessible for public viewing.”
For those unable to visit in-person, a video tour of the exhibition led by Karen Maness will be available on-demand beginning in mid-February.