And scene!

San Antonio museum lifts curtain on glamorous new Hollywood exhibit

San Antonio museum lifts curtain on glamorous new Hollywood exhibit

sistine chapel backdrop
On display now at the McNay. Photo courtesy of McNay

Two of Texas' premier cultural institutions are collaborating on a glitzy new show. For the first time ever, the McNay Art Museum and the University of Texas at Austin will cross their respective city limits to create Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel: Sacred Sets for Stage & Screen, on display now at the San Antonio museum.

Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel is an exhibit featuring six backdrops from the 1968 Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios film The Shoes of the Fisherman, starring Anthony Quinn.

The Shoes of the Fisherman is a papal drama, and filming required shots of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. In some cases, artists hand painted near-exact replicas of monumental Renaissance masterpieces in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, including the iconic Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement.

Visitors to the McNay can see these on view through April 4, 2021.

The rare, meticulously crafted pieces are part of UT's Texas Performing Arts collection, and were saved in 2017 by the Art Directors Guild Archives’ Backdrop Recovery Project after they were originally going to be discarded.

“In MGM’s Golden Age, teams of scenic artists worked together to create monumental illusions for the silver screen by hand, with skills refined over generations of master-apprentice training," explains UT lecturer Karen L. Maness, who is also Texas Performing Arts' Scenic Art Supervisor. 

Backdrops featured in Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel are just a handful of those housed in the Texas Performing Arts' collection. The UT institution has more than 50 pieces from the height of Hollywood's Golden Age, which are studied — and sometimes replicated — by UT Scenic Arts students.

Displayed alongside the backdrops are a handful of pieces to help add context to the artistic endeavors of Hollywood scenic designers. On display are works from the McNay's Tobin's Collection of Theatre Arts, such as cathedral-inspired maquettes for Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera La Prophète and opera costume designs by Jim Dine for John the Baptist in Salome.

“By exhibiting these rare backdrops, the McNay expands Robert L.B. Tobin’s heartfelt imperative that future generations of designers discover and learn about nearly lost practices, like hand-painting scenic backdrops,” said R. Scott Blackshire, curator of the Tobin Collection. “It’s exciting to bring the Italian Renaissance to San Antonio — by way of Hollywood; and to debut the results of the Backdrop Recovery Project for the first time at an art institution.”

Hollywood’s Sistine Chapel: Sacred Sets for Stage & Screen is on view now in the Tobin Theatre Arts and Brown Galleries through April 4, 2021. The McNay reopened June 26 after a three-month shutter due to COVID-19. It now operates at limited capacity, and viewers must wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.