A mix of artists, actors, and film nerds made their way into SoHo Thursday night for the opening of Foundations of the Deep: Noah and the Flood, an art exhibition organized by director Darren Aronofsky in support of his new film, Noah.
For the last several months, most of the press surrounding the biblical epic has been geared toward its religious content––whether it will appease believers or non-believers, whether it will offend or not offend. In October 2013, word leaked that initial test screenings of the film had been received poorly by churchgoers. And just last month, a report surfaced that Paramount had altered the marketing materials to include a disclaimer that the film was only inspired by the Bible, not a literal interpretation of it (the studio allegedly made the change without Aronofsky’s knowledge).
Nevertheless, appeasing devout Christians and Bible thumpers appeared to be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind at the gallery opening, where a large group turned out to see the diverse collection of work selected by the director, while they dined on fancy appetizers and sipped mixed drinks.
People have been making their own religious art for thousands of years, many of it based on the story of Noah’s Ark. However, as Aronofsky tells it, much of what’s out there doesn’t accurately represent what’s in the text. “Take the ark for example,” the Noah director told The Daily Beast. “The ark is always painted as having a bow and a keel, but what’s described in Genesis is not something that he navigates; it’s just a big box. That’s the ark we made for the movie, and while rediscovering what was in there, I was like Let’s go out to all the coolest artists I know and ask them to make a piece, their own vision, and see what comes to life.”
The result is a diverse group of colorful photographs, paintings, digital prints, mixed media pieces, and sculptures based on the famous Bible story, which take up two floors of gallery space in downtown Manhattan. Included in the collection is a large black-and-white piece done by noted comic book artist Robert Liefeld, a vibrant outer space-like acrylic from contemporary painter Erik Parker, and a special work completed by the late Reverend Howard Finster, best known for designing album covers for R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. Also participating in the show are artists (and identical twin brothers) Doug and Mike Starn, who not only contribute their bamboo-and-rope sculpture, Bbú Juju painting MV4, to the exhibit, but are also the ones who helped design the ark you’ll see in film.
“It was amazing,” said Mike, regarding the duo’s experience on Noah. “We have never worked on a movie production before, and to see all the kinds of stuff that they do and how fast they work, it’s just really incredible.”
In addition to choosing all 50 artists, Aronofsky brought in independent curator Dominic Teja Sidhu to help organize the material. This isn’t the first time the filmmaker has assembled an exhibition for one of his movies. Both The Fountain and Black Swan had their own exhibits, the latter of which Sidhu also assisted on.
“It’s a really discursive group of legendary contemporary artists like Ugo Rondinone and Karen Kilimnik and Mike Nelson,” said Sidhu, regarding the Noah exhibit. “There’s [also] a lot of amazing comic book artists that Darren’s very close with who are legends from that world.”
Added Aronofsky: “All these pieces are so different and so unique and their own take on the story, it just shows you how much is actually there to be interpreted and made into something new.”
The artwork itself is gorgeous, but the fact that the exhibit exists in the first place is a bit of an anomaly––at least on paper. Noah isn’t the first film to tackle the Holy Bible, but it may be the first movie in history to both consult prominent Christian activists about its marketing strategy and set up a pre-release art exhibition tied to the source material it uses. Aronofsky himself told us that he wanted the movie to be an all-encompassing affair.
“That’s what we were working towards on the movie,” he said, “trying to turn it into a two-hour long [piece of] entertainment for people, so believers could go and have what their values represent in the film and non-believers could [too].”
Obviously the exhibit itself serves as a powerful marketing tool, at least for New York’s creative class. Not only is there a gigantic Noah banner adorning the outside of the gallery on West Broadway, but Aronofsky chose four separate, unseen clips from the movie to debut in the exhibition.
The footage––which is presented without sound and can be viewed by looking through four viewfinders positioned inside large rectangular columns––features a four-armed rock monster, wielding a chain and sword and knocking people away from the ark. In another clip, an angel made from what appears to be molten lava crawls out of the earth. (Funny enough, the backs of one of the columns was propped wide open during the exhibition, allowing any would-be bootlegger to take the footage and upload it to the Internet.)
Aronofsky has never been one to play it safe (see: the final scene of Black Swan, Mickey Rourke punching a deli slicer in The Wrestler; all of Requiem for a Dream). Did you really think he was going to go with a generic version of Noah’s Ark?
“Yes, there’s a little peep show going on here,” said Aronofsky, regarding the preview footage. “It’s just a tease to get people excited about the movie; I wanted to put up a little of my own art.”
Foundations of the Deep: Noah and the Flood, located at 462 Broadway in SoHo, will be open to the public between March 7-29.