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by Bryce J. Renninger
July 20, 2012 2:43 PM
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Movie Lovers We Love: Flux Creates the World's Greatest Music Video Exhibit...in Cincinnati

Jonathan Wells/flux
Walking into the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, museumgoers are treated to a wall plastered with the mural work of street artist Shepard Fairey.  From the get-go, then, visitors are told they are entering into a world with its fingers on the pulse of the latest trends in contemporary art.

The Fairey foyer was not what brought me to the CAC, though.  I was brought by a friend to see the museum's Spectacle:  The Music Video exhibit, something I was nervous about, thinking I would be spending the next few hours fixing headphones to my head after approaching the TV atop the next pedestal.  But as one heads up to the second floor to check out the stellar sculpture work of Francis Upritchard, one begins to hear murmurs of music.

On reaching the top two floors of the museum, you are definitely not in a contemporary arts museum any longer. Music instantly bombards the room.  Above it all, Junior Senior's Europop jam "Move Your Feet" rises, as the speakers playing that song face out to the atrium in the center of the exhibit.

A cut-out of the landmark video for A-ha's "Take on Me" allows viewers to step inside. Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center

Spectacle is an ambitious exhibit curated by the team behind the online entertainment hub Flux, Jonathan and Meg Grey Wells, the two of whom have a long history working with music videos and went to great lengths to make sure Spectacle was a museum experience unlike any other.

When Jonathan Wells was in high school, he began his long relationship with the music video when he hosted a music video show on cable access.  "It was a show that looked at the cutting edge of music videos," Wells tells Indiewire.  "What I loved about the music video [in the 80's] was that it was an amazing combination of music and filmmaking.  When I started the film festival RESFest [a touring festival for digital filmmakers], we always had music video programming in addition to short filmmaking.  That's becoming more common, but I think we were the first."

From there, Wells developed relationships with music video directors like Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.  

The Wells' commissioned artists to create movie posters for music videos that were a part of the Epic section for more cinematic music videos. Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
The exhibit is a grand tour of the music video form, stretching from early experiments with music and film content, including early Betty Boop cartoons, to the proliferation of YouTube recreations of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" dance and Arcade Fire's interactive "The Wilderness Downtown" browser-based video.

"Since MTV launched," Wells adds, "some museums have done exhibits.  Usually with monitors on pedestals or screening a program in a theater.  We really tried to capture the magic of music video, in a way that you wouldn't experience a music video on TV.  We sought out to find, from around the world, artifacts and props, creative assets that still exist from music videos.  You could put together something like the 100 best music videos online, but we wanted to make an experience that would be unique to a museum."

The show is essential for filmlovers of all stripes.  Luckily for those unable to trek to Cincinnati before it closes in September, the show will be announcing an international tour in the coming months.

Below is a photo tour of eight of the nine sections of the exhibit.  Missing is a photo from the Remix section, which looks at remix, mashup, remakes and YouTube tributes.

Spectacle: The Music Video

  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    1 of 8

    In the Beginning

    The exhibit chronicles the first music videos, from early combinations of image and music to the early pioneers like The Beatles, David Bowie, DEVO and Queen.
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    2 of 8

    Shadows and Light

    In this part of the exhibition, beautiful cinematography is shown big. Videos or still photography from Mark Romanek, David Fincher, Anton Corbin, Floria Sigismondi,
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    3 of 8

    Smoke and Mirrors

    In the special effects section of the exhibit, the paint-splattered costumes from OK Go's Rube Goldberg hommage "This Too Shall Pass" (pictured above) are met with frames from A-ha's "Take on Me" video and a huge print photo version of Nagi Noda's "Sentimental Journey" video for Yuki.
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    4 of 8


    New experiments with interactive videos developed by Chris Milk and Vincent Morisset for Arcade Fire are at the heart of the Interactive portion of the exhibit.
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    5 of 8

    Art House

    Honoring the wacky ideas that filmmakers get to explore in the music video form, this portion of the exhibit includes monitors in faux arcade games for 8-bit animated videos like the Junior Senior "Move Your Feet" video as well as a 6 foot recreation of Milky, the star of Blur's "Coffee and TV" video.
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    6 of 8


    Exploring the cinematic -- videos that aspire to be feature films -- videos like Kanye West's "Runaway," the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," and Mint Royale's "Blue Song."
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    7 of 8

    Body Language

    From Beyonce to Madonna to Missy Elliot to Fatboy Slim's Spike Jonze-directed "Praise You" video, a celebration of dance in music video.
  • Tony Walsh / Contemporary Arts Center
    8 of 8

    Agent Provacteur

    Visitors look through peepholes (pictured) to see a set of videos that have encountered controversy for sex, violence, nudity and depiction of religion.

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