Dante Ferretti’s MoMA Exhibition Explores Design Traditions, Nostalgia

Credit: Jonathan Muzikar

The production designer’s work is being shown in collaboration with a 22-piece film retrospective.

Whimsical 1930s Paris and gritty, mid-19th century New York City are just two of the many magical, lavish and dramatic worlds that legendary production designer, art director and set decorator Dante Ferretti has created since 1969. 

Ferretti has worked with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini over the course of 50 films, 24 opera productions and more than a dozen television, museum, fashion, festival and publication projects. 

To honor his accomplishments, the Museum of Modern Art is currently showcasing an exhibition, “Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema,” and an accompanying film program, “Dante Ferretti: Designing for the Big Screen.”

“I’m very excited to be at MoMA as they recognize a production designer; this is the first time for MoMA, which is very important,” Ferretti told The Hollywood Reporter of the long-in-the-works project. “So what can I say? I’m very lucky.”

PHOTOS: Dante Ferretti's Career in Pictures as Seen at MoMA 

Ferretti -- a self-proclaimed lover of Blade Runner, which he says is “full of invention” -- has received three Academy Awards for best art direction for Hugo, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and The Aviator. Additionally, he was awarded with four BAFTAs -- one of which he shared with Francesca Lo Schiavo for Hugo -- and several David Di Donatello awards.

The two-part MoMa exhibition includes a large-scale multimedia installation with a 12-screen labyrinth featuring projected scenes and designs, original set pieces (i.e. the clock from Scorsese's Hugo, chandeliers from Pasolini's Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom) and 22 films from the production designer’s expansive career.

MoMA has celebrated production design before, but Ferretti is the first individual designer to be honored. The museum's associate curator, Ron Magliozzi, said that this exhibition is in keeping with tradition.

“MoMA has been organizing gallery exhibitions on film since 1939, starting with the simple display of photographs from experimental films and documents on George Melies and continuing with shows on studios such as UPA, Disney, Warner Bros. and directors Roberto Rossellini and Alfred Hitchcock,” Magliozzi said.

“We chose 22 films made with a variety of directors that best demonstrate how the designer's settings has helped shape and guide the director's vision; we limited ourselves to films for which we could locate good 35mm film copies so we could screen the films in the original format,” explained Jytte Jensen, MoMa's department of film curator.

Ferretti has a taste for the dramatic, the spectacular and grand-scale operatic traditions of classical Italian cinema. He has continued to use 100-year-old traditional design practices. He favors full-scale, studio-built environments over modern, digital techniques.

“A production designer's job is to create a working space for narrative, and Ferretti's career spans the period of transition from constructed sets that have dominated filmmaking for 100 years to CGI, the use of green screen and computer animation,” Magliozzi explains. “Our selection of objects for the exhibition -- the chandeliers, station clock, Venice Lions and grand Arcimboldo figures for the 2015 Milan Expo -- were chosen with a sense of nostalgia for what appears to be the passing of grand-scale, fully-built environments for films.”

“Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema” and “Dante Ferretti: Designing for the Big Screen” will run through Feb. 9, 2014.