New McNay exhibit lifts curtain on magical world of theatrical design

New McNay exhibit lifts curtain on magical world of theatrical design

Yohuali, the Mother Wolf
Yohuali, the Mother Wolf, is one of the featured animal marionettes created from hardware supplies. Photo by Pablo Federico

If you’ve ever viewed a live performance and found yourself pondering how in the world theater designers create lavish landscapes out of everyday — even unremarkable — materials, the newest exhibition at the McNay Art Museum is tailor-made for you.

The exhibition, “Is It Real? Staging Nature,” opens Thursday, April 22, and will give museum visitors a behind-the-curtain look at flowers, animals, and natural elements made from the likes of chicken wire, Styrofoam, and electronics, all from the perspective of imaginative theater designers.

“Is It Real?” highlights include monarch butterflies and mesmerizing animal marionettes created by theater artists at Mexico City’s La Liga Teatro Elastico, as well as various opera backdrops, a former Broadway musical fairytale forest, and a spectacular tree trunk set piece created by Houston painter Earl Staley.  

Also included in the show are works from The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts created by designers Boris Aronson, Franco Colavecchia, Natalia Gontcharova, Helen Pond, and Tony Straiges, as well as sculptures by artists Mary Frank, Barbara Hepworth, and more.

“The technical aspect of theater is exciting — and visitors will find much of what they see in the gallery surprising,” says R. Scott Blackshire, curator of The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. “The artworks celebrate designers, costumers, and set painters — artists in their own right — who transport audiences into caves, through forests, and to worlds beyond the imagination.”

According to the museum, a new acquisition from the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund and some previously unseen gems from The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts will also be on display, as will some designs for the newly opened and impressive Robert L. B. Tobin Land Bridge in Hardberger Park. Those designs, as well as designs for the first phase of the McNay’s landscape master plan will be displayed alongside other works of art in honor of the namesake of The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, Robert L. B. Tobin.

“Is It Real? Staging Nature” runs at the McNay through October 24.