May the Muse Be With You
Film director George Lucas has a fascination for popular art, and has collected (and in a few cases created) some of the best examples of recent generations. Now he is giving his trove of vintage paintings, classic films, and digital art to the public, along with a dramatic new building in Chicago to house it all. The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, currently in the design stage, will exhibit images that tell a story, from cave art to comics to iconic photos.
“Lucas has his finger on the pulse of popular culture and the way people respond to myth and magic,” says Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Mecklenburg organized a 2010 exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings and illustrations drawn from Lucas’s collection. She describes the art and artifacts he has assembled as “one of the best historical collections in the world.” Along with those items, Lucas has given nearly $800 million for a permanent endowment, and an estimated $300 million to fund the museum’s design and construction on the Chicago lakefront. Don Bacigalupi, founding director of Crystal Bridges and the mastermind of “State of the Art” (see pages 28 to 33), has been hired to be the museum’s president.
Flight of Fancy
Not everyone can clamber into a rocket and fly off into space, but Charles Simonyi has been up yonder twice. The Hungarian-American tech billionaire and philanthropist first leapt into the business stratosphere by creating Microsoft Office, and then made history in 2007 as one of the world’s first space tourists. He followed this with a second launch, again taking him to the International Space Station, in 2009. Rather than send an awed postcard back to friends on Earth, Simonyi decided to help other civilians share a taste of his out-of-this-world experiences—by donating $3 million to create an interactive astronautical gallery at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
Located at Seattle’s airport, the Museum of Flight is one of the largest private air and space museums in the world. It features the first presidential jet, a replica of the missing plane flown by Amelia Earhart, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and one of the world’s first pressurized gliders. Boeing’s original manufacturing plant, the “Red Barn,” also sits on the grounds.
The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery gives visitors a chance to explore the “adventure of space flight” inside its NASA Space Shuttle Trainer—a 15,000-square-foot machine that rises more than four stories and extends 100 feet in length. Originally used for astronaut training in Houston’s space center, it is a full-fuselage simulator containing everything on a real shuttle except the wings. Visitors can sit in the cockpit and putter around the cargo bay, without their keys floating out of their pockets.
Vehicles from recent space expeditions and artifacts like space suits are also showcased in the exhibit, as is the Russian Soyuz capsule that returned Simonyi to earth after his second trip. This is the only Soyuz exhibited in America outside one at the Smithsonian. It’s a little scorched from Earth reentry, when its shield smoked away at a couple thousand degrees. But if you can’t take some heat, space flight is not for you.
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