Robinson, Joan Seeman, Artforum International
WEXNER CENTER FOR THE ARTS
This twenty-five-year retrospective of designer-director Julie Taymor's career begins with an installation dedicated to her theatrical reinterpretation of Disney's 1998 film The Lion King, for which she won two Tony Awards. Behind a multi-screen video showing footage of the production phases of the musical is an array of giant masks, mannequins in full regalia, large articulated puppets of jungle animals, and working drawings, all interspersed with small wall videos of the rehearsals and the live performance. In this buoyant environment--The Lion King is by far the sunniest of Taymor's theatrical creations--viewers are made witness to a palpable imaginary world while being introduced to her faith in the efficacy of ritual.
Taymor's work reveals a fascination with the origins of theater in its most essential, even preverbal forms. Between high school and college the designer studied to be a mime in Paris, where she learned to seek the most defining gestures or "ideographs" for a given role. Based on her studies of cultural anthropology at Oberlin College, and the years she spent in Indonesia and other countries where she was inspired by shamanistic rituals and healing ceremonies, Taymor has incorporated masks and costumes from African, Far Eastern, Eskimo, Native American, and classical theater into her productions and designs.
The advantage of seeing a museum retrospective of a theatrical career is that the momentum of live performance is purposefully arrested. In effect, the visitor is invited to "perform" by engaging with scale models, costumes, set pieces, video clips, and surround sound. Here Taymor's thematizations of the errant evils and blinding fears plaguing human societies are slowly revealed as one proceeds up the ramps and stairs and into the gradually fanning spaces of the Wexner Center--a sense of journey reinforced by the chronological order of the installations. …