Scharff Weisberg, Inc. (SWI) partnered with the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and Academy Award-nominated director Philip Haas ("Angels and Insects") on an innovative installation spotlighting five works from the museum's permanent collection.
"Butchers, Dragons, Gods & Skeletons" expands those five selections into multiscreen film narratives displayed in customized environments. SWI engineered and installed the critically-acclaimed project which runs from July 18-October 25 and sets a new benchmark for museums looking for a compelling new ways to highlight works from their collections.
"The installation was an ambitious undertaking with some interesting challenges in terms of technical scope and schedule" notes SWI president Josh Weisberg who served as lead designer for the project. "The resulting exhibit is a significant advance in the use of media technology to expand the character and beauty of the original pieces."
Based on extensive research into the artists and cultures of the selected masterworks, Haas created five films, between seven and 20 minutes long that run continuously on screens of unconventional format and configuration. The films are poetic and sensuous rather than documentary in style and are displayed in spaces near their respective artworks in the Kimbell's Louis Kahn-designed galleries.
For Annibale Carracci's 16th century genre painting, "The Butcher's Shop," Haas depicts the everyday encounter leading to the painting. It is displayed on two screens facing each other; on one screen is the scene of the butchers, on the other is the artist painting the scene.
"The Death of Pentheus," inspired by the painting on an ancient Greek wine cup, relates a story told in Euripides' "The Bacchae" with images often shown in silhouette. Haas's film is projected on an 11-foot diameter disk-shaped screen that seems to hover above the floor; sometimes a single image is displayed and sometimes a central image is ringed by others.
Tiepolo's "Apollo & the Continents," which shows Apollo in the heavens surrounded by gods and classical figures, is an example of trompe l'oeil meets cinematic VFX. Haas's film is projected on the walls and ceiling of a set specifically designed for the piece and references the artist's sketch for a large frescoed ceiling.
"Arhat Taming the Dragon" tells a story inspired by a 14th century Chinese scroll by an anonymous painter. The film is rear-projected on a vertical screen, like the scroll itself, inside the same wooden Buddhist shrine that appears in the film.
Finally, "Skeletons Warming Themselves," depicts Belgian painter James Ensor at various times of his life surrounded by the grotesquely masked carnival figures in the painting of the same name. Haas's film is projected on four screens set within a giant skull.
For the simple screen set-ups SWI employed cost-effective Adtec SignEdje HD MPEG players and Christie LX-500 and Panasonic PT-DW6300ULS projectors. Audio was handled via Denon receivers and JBL Control series speakers.
"This approach resulted in very good image quality at a very affordable cost," Weisberg reports. "The Adtec units are easily synchronized which came in handy for the Carracci and Ensor pieces."
The most complex installation, "Apollo & The Continents," challenged SWI to completely cover two walls and the ceiling, within a very small space, with imagery. The wall coverage was achieved with relatively simple two-projector blends with some warping to straighten out barrel distortion in the short-throw lenses. For the ceiling the image was split, reversed, rotated and geometry-corrected before being projected from the floor level with two Christie DS+6 projectors.
To choreograph the splitting, blending and warping a seven-node Dataton WATCHOUT system was used to play back the HD images. WATCHOUT's masking capabilities were also utilized extensively to edge the images around the architectural columns, archways and cornices that comprise the "room-within-a-room" that showcases the film.
To create a sound environment that fully supported the imagery (), a multi-channel sound system consisting of four stereo pairs was arranged around the room according to the design of Academy Award winner Richard King.
"This was an extremely gratifying project to work on from both technical and artistic perspectives," says Weisberg. "The material we were tasked with displaying was just beautiful, with very high production values. Being involved in a project that is a radical departure from the way media is often used in art was highly intriguing and, as it turns out, very successful for the artist and museum.
"I can't say enough about the staff at the Kimbell," he adds. "Having never attempted something like this before they jumped into the project with gusto and rolled through the challenges with a great attitude and terrific capabilities. In addition to providing the vision and gorgeous content for the project, Philip Haas kept us all focused with his powerful and infectious enthusiasm."
At SWI project manager/system programmer Randy Briggs "spent an enormous amount of time and effort keeping the project calm and moving forward," Weisberg notes. Paul Clements was site supervisor, Hector Vega site installer, Barry Grossman system designer, Tom Whipple projection engineer, Patrick Denny digital encoding supervisor and Brian O'Neal site technician.
Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications, firms with extensive histories in the presentation and staging markets, recently announced a co-ownership agreement. While continuing to operate independently the two companies work together strategically to provide clients with state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting equipment and services. With a strong presence on both coasts Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications are able to deliver a large array of cost-effective services on a national level. For more information, call 212-582-2345 or visit our website at www.scharffweisberg.com. For more information on Video Applications, visit www.videoapps.com.