VIENNA — Wes Anderson appeared drained. The filmmaker was once dressed in a purple blazer and a striped tie, status underneath the flowery 19th-century cupola of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. His spouse, the creator and clothier Juman Malouf, was once by way of his facet.
Dozens of buddies — the actors Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman; the filmmaker Jake Paltrow; and a pair of lesser-known Coppolas amongst them — stood round him. Photographers jostled for angles.
It wasn’t a film premiere, however the exhibition opening for “Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures,” which Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf curated, indisputably had the air of 1.
Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf have been requested to position the display in combination from gadgets within the selection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Austria’s biggest. When Mr. Anderson stepped as much as the microphone on Monday to deal with the visitors, it was once with the weariness of anyone who had long past to fight and are available again modified.
His speech was once quick. “It was probably worth it,” he stated, handiest moderately jokingly, of the trouble it took to curate the exhibition.
In his personal speech, Jasper Sharp, the museum’s curator of recent and fresh artwork, stated hanging the display in combination felt every now and then “like we were in some kind of insane Japanese game show.”
From the beginning, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf had grand aspirations: Mr. Anderson wrote within the exhibition catalog that he was hoping the display may unencumber some new approach of seeing now not simply the museum’s assortment, but additionally “the study of art and antiquity.”
After digging thru four.five million works — maximum of that are saved in a warehouse close to Vienna’s airport — Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf, who discuss little German, created a purely visible display. For essentially the most phase, they have been neither within the provenance or rarity of a piece, nor whether or not it was once the most productive instance of its college or taste. Rather, they grouped about 450 gadgets by way of colour, subject matter and length, in a approach that mirrored lots of Mr. Anderson’s cinematic methods.
Unexpected demanding situations briefly sprung up. Things a non-curator would understandably by no means consider, just like the humidity necessities for showing positive works, or what fabrics should be used for presentations, changed into stymieing elements. A venture that was once supposed to take two and a part weeks took nearer to 2 and a part years, Mr. Sharp stated. “This was an incredible headache for them,” he added.
The display opens with a 17th-century portray by way of Frans Francken the Younger, wherein the artist depicts a “Kunstkammer” — his personal selection of sculptures, landscapes, portraits and cash. The implication is obvious: This exhibition is Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf’s personal cupboard of curiosities.
It’s additionally a display filled with puzzles and jokes. In one room containing more than a few packing containers and boxes — together with Austrian army chests, German flute circumstances, and non secular boxes for crucifixes and scepters — a lengthy museum show case is empty, as an object in its personal proper. (“A ‘conceptual vitrine,’ ” Mr. Sharp stated in an interview.)
In a wood-paneled room, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf have positioned a piece of petrified wooden that Mr. Sharp estimated was once just about a million years outdated underneath a portray on maple that in part depicts a piece of wooden. These have been juxtaposed with a whittled wood sculpture. A subject matter turns into a lens at the evolution of artwork — from the purposeful and artless, to the clever pretending towards authenticity, to the decadently unnecessary.
But those puzzles regularly seem to be both missing importance, or so surface-level as to be unnecessary. A room full of portraits of youngsters dressed as royalty or clergy, which additionally contains a darkly comical child-size go well with of armor, is humorous and mawkish, however its importance stops there.
In each Mr. Anderson’s movies — lots of which handle the creativeness of youngsters — and Ms. Malouf’s young-adult novel, “The Trilogy of Two,” the artists manipulate emotions by way of controlling the characters they created. But in an exhibition, they are able to care for handiest current works of art that experience their very own histories.
Ms. Malouf, who co-founded the cult style label Charlotte Corday, is a phenomenal clothier in her personal proper, however it’s Mr. Anderson who’s extra regularly known for a distinct aesthetic. His paintings has been copied, loved and aspired to in equivalent measure (see the preferred “Accidentally Wes Anderson” Instagram account). Curation may look like a very easy shift for Mr. Anderson. You may say that his films are themselves curatorial acts, assembling gadgets and units that draw consideration to themselves, somewhat than mixing in.
But Mr. Anderson’s onscreen aesthetic is all about developing narratives and moods — of craving, of despair, of interest. Art curation is a essentially other pursuit. Unlike a director shifting actors round a set, a museum curator can not dictate how the works will make a viewer really feel. Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf appear now not have learned this.
It is handiest when Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf surrender any try of mood-making or meaning-finding that the exhibition turns into shifting. In a room filled with inexperienced gadgets — an emerald, a cigarette case, feathers, bowls, a get dressed from an Ibsen play, a portray of Salome sporting the top of John the Baptist on a platter — the golf green seems as so uncommon and so stunning that, for a second, the classy is all that issues.
The 17th-century emerald reduce with gold and tooth seems, as Mr. Sharp stated, to be “the pot into which the brush was dipped to paint every other object.” And whilst Mr. Anderson was once possibly stretching it when he wrote within the catalog that the emerald’s placement is helping to “call attention to the molecular similarities between hexagonal crystal and Shantung silk” in a close by get dressed, this “green room” is the one house within the exhibition that performs no video games of temper or feeling. It is the one room wherein Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf have determined they might now not absolutely keep watch over the gadgets — that, not like in films or novels, the classy has to face by itself.
At the outlet on Monday, after the American ambassador to Austria praised the exhibition as “delicious” and the Austrian tradition minister gave a few blustering remarks, Mr. Anderson and Ms. Malouf made their approach down the museum’s marble staircase.
As Mr. Anderson attempted to flee the throngs of autograph and selfie-seekers, I requested him if he’d ever do one thing like this once more. He laughed and touched his hair. “Well …,” he stated, and left it at that.
It is smart that he would really feel drained and dissatisfied. He and Ms. Malouf entered an not possible fight with little armor. To strip works in their titles, historical past and scholarship and position them into a purely visible context with the hope that they could retain emotional importance was once all the time going to be a problem.
The need to flatten and redefine works that have been already bursting with their very own histories made the display really feel just like the “Accidentally Wes Anderson” Instagram account: It had Mr. Anderson’s surface-level aesthetic, however not one of the underlying narrative or emotion of his films.
It additionally felt a bit like the outlet night time: overstretched, overwrought and in the long run as hole as that vacant vitrine.