Brooklyn Museum Explores Spike Lee's Creative Inspirations

Show features Knicks jerseys, Prince's guitar and Gordon Parks' photographs

Thankfully for the Brooklyn Museum—as well as all of us who are interested in what makes one of the world's foremost filmmakers tick—Spike Lee is an avid collector. "People know him as a filmmaker, and that is an aspect of who he is. But he is also a preserver of history and culture," says Kimberli Gant, curator of the new exhibit "Spike Lee: Creative Sources."

Which means that Gant had a treasure trove of artifacts relating to Black history, Lee's family story, Brooklyn, sports, music, film and photography to draw from as she crafted the comprehensive and thought-provoking show. It displays more than 450 items exploring the people, places and ideas that have driven and inspired the director throughout his nearly 40-year career.

Among the wide variety of notable objects featured are a cast-iron bank from the late 1800s depicting three caricatured Black baseball players; Toni Morrison first editions; a portrait of Aaron Copland, one of Lee's favorite composers, taken by legendary photographer Gordon Parks; a football jersey signed by Colin Kaepernick; Prince's "love symbol" guitar; and the hot pink, double-breasted suit Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh designed for Lee to rock at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where he served as the event's first Black jury president.

An entire room of the exhibit is devoted to Lee's New York Knicks memorabilia.

Also on display: the Oscar Lee won in 2019 for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, some of the director's hand-written notes, as well as posters for his films Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Bamboozled, Malcolm X and 25th Hour. 

Michael Jordan played a big role in Lee's entrée into the ad world, and No.23 is duly represented by autographed photos. The exhibit also incorporates kicks Jordan gifted to Lee, who famously directed and appeared with the basketball legend in iconic Nike ads from the 1990s. Lee played Mars Blackmon, his character from the breakthrough 1986 film She's Gotta Have It. 

Reflecting on the significance of Lee forming Spike DDB and bringing his cinematic world into to the ad space, Gant, who reveals that her dad was "an ad guy," muses, "I think it reminds us that creators have always had what we would call the commercial side of themselves and the more avant-garde side."

In addition to learning about the prolific director's many influences, Gant hopes visitors will take a moment to reflect on the people, places, events and media that inspire their own creativity. 

"When people come to a show like this, I want them to be inquisitive. I want them to be curious about their own inspirations," Gant says. "You are a complex human with a lot that fuels you, and sometimes you need to just take a moment to remember that."

"Spike Lee: Creative Sources" is scheduled to run through February 4, 2024.

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