ART REVIEW: "Stanley Kubrick"-Los Angeles County Museum of Art

When I first saw this exhibit, back in March with my editor, I wanted to review it in two words: “see it.”  Even though I have never seen a Kubrick film, I was blown away by its scope and could not think of how to write a review that encompasses every aspect of this fantastic retrospective.   Thus, when I visited LACMA to see the James Turrell retrospective (reviewed here), I made a point of taking another look so that I could attempt to write a review that would do justice to this excellent undertaking.


LACMA’s “Stanley Kubrick” is a true feat.  It is detailed and exhaustive. It is expansive and meticulous and consistently engaging to lovers of both art and film.  Kubrick’s own approach to filmmaking arguably blurs or even erases such a line.

Upon entering the exhibit, located in the Art of the Americas Building, the viewer is treated to a selection of clips of his films, presented in chronological order.  At various intervals, quotations from Kubrick or other film professionals regarding whichever film was being excerpted at the time were superimposed over the footage.  The quotations reveal these films to be deeply philosophical to their core.   The clips shown demonstrate the strength of the musical scores accompanying these films, which serve marvelously to heighten whatever mood Kubrick wanted to portray.  (Kubrick’s use of music gets its own dedicated side room later on in the exhibit).

What is made abundantly clear throughout this exhibit was that Kubrick was not just creating visually and sensationally engrossing films to entertain, but to relay important philosophical concepts and to challenge his audiences.

Almost immediately making a visual impact is the massive wall of posters from nearly all of Kubrick’s films.  As a painting and drawing enthusiast, it is fascinating to see the range of artistic styles used in film posters throughout the decades and how a single film can have such a variety of poster styles depending on the country of release.

As I walked through this exhibit a second time, I realized that being familiar with Kubrick’s oeuvre would naturally have increased my appreciation of the detailed analysis of each film further in the exhibit.

Each film he directed has a dedicated area within the exhibit, replete with annotated script drafts, set photos, set pieces, famous props, costumes and other memorabilia, including posters.  The scope of each mini-exhibit is absolutely exhaustive.   This effort by LACMA is the definitive Kubrick retrospective, and its expanse cannot be paralleled or exceeded. 

It is amazing to see how diverse his body of work has been and how acclaimed his films are. He tackled horror, period pieces, war films, science fiction, and satire, among other genres, over half a century, and emerged with well-known, oft-beloved products. 

Two small displays sought to connect several related motifs among Kubrick’s body of work.  The first such display, located near the beginning of the exhibit, discusses Kubrick’s use of the chessboard motif in both literal and more abstract senses.  A chess enthusiast, Kubrick often had characters in his films play chess; or, when the setting of the film precluded an actual chess game from happening, such as Spartacus (1960), the chessboard image appears as a checkered floor.   The chessboard also appears as a floor in one of his earliest films, Paths of Glory (1957).   This display also includes Kubrick’s own chess set. 

The second display in this vein is a wall devoted to Kubrick’s use of shades of red as a motif in several of his films.  According to this small display, the color represents a different idea each time.  For example, in A Clockwork Orange (1971) “red...[signifies] that a change is pending” whereas in Barry Lyndon (1975), it represents “the state and its control of the individual”.   In Eyes Wide Shut (1999), red is “is the emblem of eroticism”.  These small displays serve to unite such disparate films under a common umbrella within Kubrick’s oeuvre.

This exhibit also devotes sections to two high-profile abandoned Kubrick projects: Napoleon, from c. 1969, and Aryan Papers, from c. 1990-1995.  The former project was abandoned due to budget constraints, while the latter, a Holocaust drama, was said to have depressed Kubrick emotionally and production was therefore shut down.  Selections of notebooks of research and drawings of costumes for “Napoleon” and the extensive set photographs for Aryan Papers build a picture of what might have been for these never-realized projects.    

Stanley Kubrick’s films, as presented in this retrospective, are true works of art.  Without a doubt Kubrick surely qualifies as an artist, though his medium is less than traditional.   

“Stanley Kubrick” runs through June 30 and advance ticketing is recommended.


  1. This exhibit certainly requires a good amount of time to see and experience and this review provides a good guide through the huge amount of "stuff" included in the show. I love the review...especially as it is through the eyes of someone who has never seen a Kubrick film. You have done an excellent job here!

  2. Never seen a Kubrick film?! Inexcusable.
    I'm particularly curious about the abandoned projects. In addition, was there any reference in the exhibit to A.I.? The film will be subject to controversy for all eternity, but my understanding is that it really was, in many ways, a tribute to the friendship between Kubrick and Spielberg, and I'm curious to see the professional take on what happened in that case.

  3. I get a weird feeling about Kubrick films; that I *should* like them more than I do. I don't mean that in a phillistinish way; I appreciate them technically. There's just an inhuman core at cneter for a lot of them that I can't really get past.


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