In black and white

The Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport invites you to a “Rendezvous in Black.”

The two solo black-and-white shows (Nov. 10-Dec. 16) by Cindy Sherman and Ann Chernow examine film noir and the opportunities the characteristically gritty features opened up for women in the 1940s and ’50s.

“It was a great genre for expanding the roles available to women in classic Hollywood,” says Richard L. Edwards, a professor of film at Ball State University in Indiana, who will talk about women in film noir at the opening. “One of the great contributions is the creation of the femme fatale, the Spiderwoman, the dangerous woman. And at the Housatonic show, you have two artists who will play with these expanded roles.”

Sherman’s series, “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-88), uses 8 X 10-inch film stills that resemble promotional  pictures from movie sets while Chernow, a Westport resident whose late husband Burt founded the Housatonic Museum of Art, has contributed stone lithographs from her “Noir” series.

Robbin Zella, the executive director of the Housatonic Museum of Art, says the works from Chernow and Sherman “draw expertly from the film noir style to create pieces that are contemporary yet offer moments that could have been seen on the movie sets themselves.

“These images are fictional takes on noir, not necessarily one-to-one relationships to film itself. These are artworks that use that genre as a launching pad into their own explorations.”

The museum will also screen classic film noir movies throughout the exhibit, including “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Humphrey Bogart, and “Night of the Hunter,” starring Bridgeport native Robert Mitchum.

“By showing the films and then the artwork that comes out of those films, it brings it full circle,” Zella says. “So students get a little bit of an education on film history and they get to learn about different techniques, in this case photography and lithography, and they are able to understand how to read a film and read artwork at the same time.”

The film noir genre was launched in part as a reaction to the postwar era, Edward says.

“These films in the ’40s and ’50s were really going against the classic Hollywood myths and the happy ending,” Edwards adds. “These were bitter little pills of films and they really channeled the anxieties the United States was facing after World War II, when the world seemed to be a much less safe place.”

Zella says the exhibit’s theme was driven in part by a resurgence in the film noir genre, which Edwards adds can be attributed to a growing angst in the country today.

“You start to see more examples of it in both the film world and the art world in times when society is anxious,” Edwards says.

While there were few film noir releases in the 1980s, the genre saw a resurgence with Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” in the ’90s and post-9/11 as the country came to grips with the threat of terror at home and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Edwards cites the genre’s influence on films such as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and even on television with Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which he calls the best noir-inspired show in television history.

With an election that has reached unprecedented levels of hostility and polls showing  that some Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, film noir can offer both a mirror to society and an escape.

“These types of anxieties are not new to American society,” Edwards says. “We have to understand what the flipside of the American Dream looks like, and noir is the master class. So when we study the films of the ’40s and ’50s and how they influence the works of contemporary artists such as Cindy Sherman or Ann Chernow, we can use these types of artists and artworks to open up the conversation.”

For more, visit hcc.commnet.edu/artmuseum/.

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