Mad Men exhibit at Museum of the Moving Image: first impressions

This evening, the Museum of the Moving Image held a special members-only preview of the new exhibit “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men” before it opens tomorrow.  So here’s my unpolished impression of it.

Long before streaming made ephemeral film easy to see, the Museum was curating a full range of video obscurities.  Even the clips from the show that can be viewed any time on Netflix or iTunes are a whole different experience in context, and there’s everything from a roll of clips from movies that sum up the Space Age aesthetic to a jukebox-like touchscreen of songs that influenced the show with commentary.

But while the exhibit covers the gamut of the show from scripts to characters, most of all, the extensive array of artifacts included ensures that the most forceful impact is the sheer sense of space and tangible time and place.  With the multitudinous artifacts from the show, and even full-scale recreations of some of its environments, it conjures up the show’s trademark 1960s-before-The-Sixties as surely as an attic full of family photos, old vinyl collections, and National Geographic issues.  In an era of computer graphics and ephemeralization, when all that is solid, even the iPod clickwheel, melts into bits, it conjures up a lost world of stuff.  The focus on a meticulously created environment rather than plot is reminiscent of world-building efforts in science fiction and fantasy, including Jim Henson’s efforts in Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. And it’s simply fortunate for those who aren’t as caught up as they would have liked (like, well, me).  Even the museum’s previous Breaking Bad exhibit, far more plot-oriented by necessity for its subject, was understandable even to a viewer who had only seen the first season, and this one is similarly accessible.

Unless you absolutely can’t stand Mad Men for some reason (and why would you?), it’s worth a look.


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