Movies have trailers. Books have trailers. And now art shows have trailers. Which means that a form of communication generally reserved for gun-toting space heroes is now being used to present shows about minimalism.
As far back as 2006, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York had an online trailer for Doug Aitken's video installation "Sleepwalkers," produced in collaboration with the arts nonprofit Creative Time. But the form seems to have picked up steam in the last several years; gallery shows now frequently employ them.
Some art exhibition trailers are pretty straightforward: a straight-up ad for the show. Others are a bit more Hollywood, with quick cuts and heart-pounding music. Yet others feature collages of imagery — some appropriated, some not — that make absolutely no sense. These must be art.
Sadly, none of the ones I've seen so far contain explosions or over-the-top testosterone narration. (This summer. One man. Will make art. Like no other art you've seen before.) Either way, there's still plenty to look at. Eight of the most interesting:
MOMA'S 'SLEEPWALKERS' STILL GOING STRONG
This early exhibition trailer for Doug Aitken's "Sleepwalkers" installation at MoMA features quick cuts of attractive people to a steadily building soundtrack. It doesn't give away the goods, but it does what all good trailers do, which is pique viewers' curiosity enough to make them want to see more. And, what, indeed will all those attractive people do next?
Another early exhibition trailer: this one from a 2007 exhibition at the L.A. County Museum of Art of Western landscapes. This one opens nicely, with a single spaghetti western guitar twang, of the sort that would make you think that Clint Eastwood is about to come on-screen. But then the moment is wrecked halfway through when the trailer begins to show footage of galleries. (Like seeing the sausage get made.) A better trailer would have let us revel in a moment of Western myth — reality be damned!
SMITHSONIAN GETS IT RIGHT WITH NAM JUNE PAIK
The Smithsonian has been steadily making trailers for its exhibitions for a number of years. This is the best, a trailer devoted to an exhibition of work by pioneering video artist Nam June Paik from 2012. It gets across the weirdness of Paik's work as well as his importance, but also leaves you wanting more. It almost makes up for the horrible trailer the museum did for its Latino art exhibition last year. Does everything Latino have to ooze Spanish guitar? GAH.
THE I-HAVE-NO-IDEA-WHAT-THIS-IS TRAILER
A lot of galleries and exhibition spaces put out trailers that do away with traditional narrative (aka, make no sense) or have some super-tangential connection to the show in question. This trailer, for a new exhibition at Agency Contemporary, has poetry, some fuzzy television color bars and an ominous rumbling sound. I have no idea how it connects to the show it is promoting (I haven't seen it yet), but I'm sure that it's laden with really important symbolism. As a trailer, though? Meh.
ART TRAILER, NEW AGE EDITION
If you've seen Korakrit Arunanondchai's installation at the Mistake Room in downtown L.A., then you might have some sense of what this is about. Otherwise, good luck. (I don't want to give it all away. But suffice it to say it's a play on spirituality and the language of advertising.) The trailer, however, has attractive people (always, attractive people) and sunsets and bubbles, as well as a chilled-out lounge soundtrack that will leave you suicidal or wanting to do yoga. As a trailer, it's OK: romantic and visually pleasing, though it doesn't necessarily leave me longing for more. On a serious note, Arunanondchai's show runs until Sept. 13, and the video is worth checking out. Bonus: there's free soap.
MANET AS MOOD BOARD
This unusual video piece from the Toledo Museum of Art isn't quite a trailer. (At least it isn't described as such.) But it's so attractively adolescent-teen-angsty, I can't help but include it here. The gist: a lovely young woman in a railway station channels Edouard Manet to a moody indie-band-with-raspy-vocals soundtrack, all to promote the museum's Manet portraiture exhibition from 2012. It's more music video than trailer. It could also double as an excellent ad for J. Crew. But it's nonetheless irresistible. Even if taking a train is absolutely nothing like this.
TRAILER MOST LIKELY TO STAR THE ROCK
We may not get explosions, but this trailer, from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, comes through with the most Hollywood setup of the bunch: Egyptian mummies, animated sequences, music that crescendos relentlessly and a testosterone-infused male voice at the end, all tied to an exhibition called "Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb," from 2011. All this thing needs is a butt-kicking Dwayne Johnson in long hair and leather arm bands ready to smote some bad-guy butt, and I am so there.
BEST IN SHOW: ED FORNIELES 7-SECOND TRAILER
This is a trailer that makes no sense (very art world), employs all of the tics of Hollywood, and is only seven seconds long. In other words, it's an all-around win for British conceptual artist Ed Fornieles, who used it to promote his show at L.A.'s Mihai Nicodim gallery last summer. It also offers other arts institutions an invaluable lesson: no one, and I mean no one, needs a four-minute trailer, especially when it comes to an art show.
ART WORLD, IMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT STANLEY KUBRICK HAS THE BEST TRAILERS OF ALL TIME:
Thanks to L.A. artist Lee Thompson, who pointed the way on many of these trailers. In the meantime, you can find me on the Tweeter @cmonstah