May 25, 2021 (Austin, Texas) — Following an extended, sold-out exhibition of Texas Performing Arts' collection of mid-century MGM film backdrops this spring, Texas Performing Arts presents Behind the Scenes: Hollywood's Sistine Chapel. Among the 50 backdrops received by Texas Performing Arts from the Art Directors Guild Backdrop Recovery Project was a nearly complete replica of the Sistine Chapel. These 18 backdrops represent full-scale copies of the historic frescos that are a cornerstone of High Renaissance Art. Hollywood scenic artists painstakingly recreated the paintings of the Sistine Chapel, including Michelangelo's The Last Judgement.
San Antonio's McNay Art Museum recently displayed selected backdrops from this collection as part of their exhibit of Sacred Sets for Stage & Screen. This exhibition at Texas Performing Arts will be the first public viewing of the entire Sistine Chapel suite. Texas Performing Arts invites audiences to see these master illusions for themselves in an immersive space designed for personal contemplation and up-close examination of this unique Hollywood motion picture art form. The backdrops will be displayed on the Bass Concert Hall stage, providing visitors an opportunity to go Behind The Scenes for a rare perspective on Austin's largest theater.
While this spring's exhibition transported visitors to a Hollywood backlot during the golden age of moviemaking, this installation takes viewers to Vatican City for a visit to the Sistine Chapel through the lens of midcentury Hollywood. Visitors will be immersed in a 360-degree installation of large-scale, hand-painted artworks, many depicting scenes from the Old Testament. In addition to Michelangelo, the film backdrops replicate frescos by Italian masters Perugino, Botticelli, and others. The replicas were created by MGM Scenic Art Supervisor George Gibson, Lead Scenic Artist Clark Provins, and Scenic Artists F. Wayne Hill, Harry Tepker, Albert Londraville, Ron Strang, Bob Oberbeck, and others, with Lead Portraitist Jaroslav "Jerry" Gebr.
Texas Performing Arts Executive Director Bob Bursey noted "While there are several shows of reproduced masterworks happening this summer, this exhibit is special because of the handmade artistry of these paintings, in contrast to those digitally printed and or video projected reproductions."
The backdrops on display were created for the 1968 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Shoes of the Fisherman. Filmed in Rome during a time of transformation within the Catholic Church under Vatican II and the global nuclear escalation of the Cold War, The Shoes of the Fisherman delves into the highest levels of international politics and the Catholic Church when a new pope must decide his role in the future of humanity. The film tested the illusion-making prowess of MGM's Scenic Art Department. Denied access to film in the Sistine Chapel, the Italian-based film crew requested an emergency replica of the Sistine Chapel. George Gibson, Scenic Art Supervisor, gathered scenic artists from across Hollywood, including competing film studios, to execute this monumental task in three short months. So convincing was their illusion that the Catholic clergy were enraged at the film's premiere, believing that the film crew had been allowed to film the actual Sistine Chapel. The film was a box office disappointment but garnered Academy Award nominations for Alex North for Best Score and George W. Davis and Edward C. Carfagno for Best Art Direction.
Karen L. Maness, Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts and faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin noted "It is astonishing that we have a full-scale, hand-painted copy of the Sistine Chapel here at the University of Texas at Austin. It is a masterwork of Hollywood scenic art illusion. The exhibit on Bass stage will delight both film enthusiast and the devout."
The Bass Concert Hall stage has been transformed in to an exhibition hall, offering viewers a unique opportunity to see these enormous historic paintings up close. The MGM backdrops on view are:
BEHIND THE SCENES: HOLLYWOOD'S SISTINE CHAPEL
- "Baptism of Christ", backdrop 23’-8" x 12’-6" Fresco 17’-6" x 11’-0" after Pietro Perugino and assistants
- "Temptations of Christ", backdrop 21’-11" x 12’-6" Fresco 18’-3" x 11’-4" after Sandro Botticelli
- "Vocation of the Apostles", backdrop 22’-10" x 7’-1" Fresco 18’-4" x 11’-5" after Domenico Ghirlandaio
- "The Sermon on the Mount", backdrop 22’-9" x 7’-1" Fresco 18’-8" x 11’-5" after Cosimo Rosselli
- "Resurrection of Christ", backdrop 21’-4" x 12’-6" after Hendrick van den Broeck (1572) over Domenico Ghirlandaio's original
- "Moses Leaving for Egypt", backdrop 23’-10" x 12’-6" Fresco 18’-9" x 11’-8" after Pietro Perugino and assistants
- "The Trials of Moses", backdrop 22’-0" x 12’-6" Fresco 18’-4" x 11’-5" after Sandro Botticelli and his workshop
- “The Crossing of the Red Sea”, backdrop 22’-0” x 12’-6” Fresco 18’-9” x 11’-8” after Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio or Biagio di Antonio Tucci (historical attribution disputed)
- "Descent from Mount Sinai", backdrop 21’-11" x 12’-6" Fresco 18’-9" x 11"-8" after Cosimo Rosselli or Piero di Cosimo
- "Punishment of the Rebels", backdrop 22’-31/2" x 12’-6" Fresco 18’-4" x 11’-5" after Sandro Botticelli
- “Testament and Death of Moses”, backdrop 20’-9 1/4” x 12’-6” Fresco 18’-9” x 11”-8” after Luca Signorelli or Bartolomeo della Gatta
- "Disputation over Moses' Body", backdrop 23’-7" x 12’-6" after Matteo da Lecce (1574) over Luca Signorelli's original
- Four Saints, East wall of Sistine Chapel; (L to R) St. Caius, St. Marcellinus, St. Marcellus I, and St. Eutychians, backdrop 46’-0" x 12’-6" after Original Artist Unknown
- "The Last Judgement", backdrop 47’-4" x 23’-3" Fresco 39’-4" x 44’-11" after Michelangelo
- Sistine Chapel, Italian wall hanging, backdrop 7’-3" x 11’-4" after Original Artist Unknown
- One Saint, South wall of Sistine Chapel, St. Dionysius, backdrop 11’-10" x 12’-6" after Original Artist Unknown
- Two Saints, South wall of Sistine Chapel; (L to R) St. Stephan I & St. Cornelius, backdrop 19’-10" x 12’-6" after Original Artist Unknown
- One Saint, South wall of Sistine Chapel: St. Anterus, backdrop 23’-8" x 12’-6" Fresco 17’-6" x 1"-0" after Original Artist Unknown
The exhibit is open by reservation on Thursdays through Sundays from June 25 to August 1, 2021 with opening times on Thursday and Fridays from 2:30-5:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 am-4:30 pm. The exhibit will be closed on Sunday, July 4. Advanced reservations for a 30-minute arrival window are required and may be made at texasperformingarts.org. There is no limit on time spent in the exhibition until closing. Capacity is limited.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for military and seniors, $10 for non-University of Texas at Austin students of any age and $12 for groups of 10+. Tickets are free for UT students, faculty and staff and Texas Inner Circle members.
San Jacinto Garage is the closest public parking to Bass Concert Hall. There is construction on campus and changes to traffic flow in the area. For more information, visit the Directions and Parking page.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Texas Performing Arts health and safety plans include improved air circulation and filtration, increased space in our lobbies, contactless ticketing and transactions, increased cleaning frequency, and hand sanitization stations throughout our venues. Please note that masks are optional inside University of Texas buildings and outdoors. Masking and social distancing are optional but recommended for individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have weakened immune systems.
COVID-19 vaccinations are available to anyone ages 12 and older from the UT Austin COVID-19 Vaccination Hub. An appointment request form and information on walk-up hours are available at https://uthealthaustin.org/patient-resources/covid-19-updates/covid-19-vaccination. Patrons outside of Austin who want to find a vaccine locally can do so at vaccines.gov.
ABOUT THE BACKDROP RECOVERY PROJECT
In 2012, the Art Directors Guild (ADG) Archives began to chronicle the unsung contributions of Hollywood's motion picture scenic artists. Working closely with the ADG, University of Texas at Austin faculty members Karen Maness and Richard Isackes co-authored The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, published by Regan Arts (2016). The award-winning volume is the definitive behind-the-scenes history of one of Hollywood's most closely guarded cinematic secrets—painted backdrops and the scenic artists who brought them to the big screen. In 2017 the ADG Archives Backdrop Recovery Project was launched in partnership with J.C. Backings. This commitment resulted in rescuing 207 historic backings from destruction and creating the world's most comprehensive archive of Hollywood scenic art history.
ABOUT TEXAS PERFORMING ARTS
Texas Performing Arts is the performing arts presenting program of The University of Texas at Austin and operates campus venues including Bass Concert Hall and McCullough Theatre. It is the home of the Lexus Broadway in Austin series. In calendar year 2019 Bass Concert Hall had the highest number of tickets sold of any theater in Austin, was #2 in the State of Texas and #22 in the world, according to industry publication Pollstar. Following a national search, Tony Award-winning producer Bob Bursey was appointed Executive Director in January, 2020.