Museum exhibitions come to movie theaters
In this Jan. 2013 photo provided by Phil Grabsky Films, art historian Tim Marlow, left, curator Larry Nichols and the curator of the Manet exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts Mary Anne Stevens talk in front of a Manet painting at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. On April 11, BY Experience is launching EXHIBITION, broadcasts of current or just closed art exhibitions from around the world to select movie theaters and performing arts centers in nearly 30 countries. (AP Photo/Phil Grabsky Films)
NEW YORK (AP) — From the people who brought live Metropolitan Opera performances to a movie theater near you comes the next big-screen cultural attraction: museum art exhibits from around the world.
It begins Thursday with a retrospective devoted to the portraits by Edouard Manet from the Royal Academy of Arts in London, screened to 450 theaters across the U.S. and about 600 around the globe, with many locations scheduling encore broadcasts.
Two more exhibits are already lined up: a June retrospective on the art of Edvard Munch from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, and an October showing of works by Johannes Vermeer from the National Gallery in London.
Unlike the live opera broadcasts, the art presentations are slickly produced documentaries giving viewers a VIP guided tour of current or recently ended exhibitions from noted art historian Tim Marlow, who lingers on each of the displayed works and explains why they are special. Curator interviews, artist profiles and backstage tours fill out the 90-minute, high-definition shows broadcast to U.S. theaters by NCM Fathom Events — for an average price of $12.50.
"This is a way for an armchair traveler to come to the arts world, have it brought to them," said Julie Borchard-Young, co-owner of BY Experience, the company distributing the broadcasts. "Because it's not live, we wanted to make sure that the programs are very immersive and contemplative, that the viewer has a chance to slow down his or her busy life and really take this in."
For BY Experience, fine art is a natural next step in spreading culture to the masses, building on the niche success of its live series from the Met Opera and London's National Theatre.
The Met Opera series, for example, has grown every year since it was first beamed in 2006 to 98 theaters in four countries. Today it's seen in more than 1,900 theaters in 64 countries, with nearly 13 million tickets sold since 2006, according to figures provided by the opera house.
It had gross ticket sales of more than $57 million around the world for 11 performances during the 2011-12 season. Its Feb. 16 screening of "Rigoletto" took in $2.6 million in North America, ranking it No. 12 in the weekend box office, beating "Argo" and "Lincoln."
Like the Met, which realized $11 million from the opera broadcasts last season, the participating art museums will get a cut of the profits.
But will art exhibits work at the movies? Unlike new opera and theater performances, just about every piece of art from current exhibitions can already be viewed over the Internet. And the exhibits will be a documentary film, not a live event.
Borchard-Young said By Experience was encouraged by the response to what served as the pilot for its art exhibit series: "Leonardo Live," a 90-minute film by Phil Grabsky on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at London's National Gallery that was viewed by 125,000 people in 21 countries.
"We were convinced there was an audience for fine arts" after that, she said.