“Mad Men” At The Museum

As a period drama, AMC’s highly regarded cable series “Mad Men” can be described as an art form about advertising, which media theorist Marshall McLuhan deemed “the greatest art form of the 20th century.” It is therefore fitting that, with the final seven episodes airing April 5th through May 17th, “Mad Men” is being honored with several exhibits at a number of prominent art museums that showcase the series itself, or the real-life movers and shakers of “Madison Avenue” – a synecdoche for the advertising industry – during the 1960s.

The first of these is “Matthew Weiner’s ‘Mad Men,’” which runs through June 14th at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

Curator Barbara Miller tells The Wall Street Journal that the exhibit is “a deeper insight into not just the show, but the creative process.”

Weiner provided his notes, research material, a number of marked-up scripts from the show – and the exhibit even includes a replica of the conference room at Los Angeles Center Studios with “a whiteboard with scenes diagrammed on it to a table littered with copies of trade magazines like Variety and a bottle of Ibuprofen for all those headaches the writers must have gotten,” reports Fast Company’s Co.Create.

But with 25 costumes and accessories (Don Draper’s sunglasses and cigarette lighter, among others), props (a cigarette machine and the secret shoebox), and meticulously reconstructed sets of Draper’s office and the kitchen in the Draper’s home, WSJ adds that the exhibit is “without a doubt a treasure trove for the die-hard “Mad Men” fans out there.”

In addition to clips of some of the defining moments from the show that are included in the larger exhibit, the Museum of the Moving Image will host a film series until April 26th called “Required Viewing: Mad Men’s Movie Influences,” which is comprised of 10 films selected by Weiner himself that “had an important influence on the creation of ‘Mad Men’ [and] were required viewing for people working on the show.” They include The Bachelor Party (1957), The Apartment (1960) and Dear Heart (1964).

The Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. also plans to launch a “Mad Men” exhibit in July under the aegis of its Marketing Moments (1770-2010) collection, which is part of the permanent “American Enterprise” exhibit.

Last week, the museum held an event at which AMC President Charlie Collier donated which clothing, props and scripts from the show to The Smithsonian, along with a bottle of Stoli, Sterling Cooper business cards, and a pack of Lucky Strikes. As The Washington Post notes, “[I]t’s practically impossible to separate “Mad Men” from the iconic accoutrements of show’s main characters.”

The “Real” Mad Man

There is a long list of legendary ad men who could have served as Weiner’s real-life template as he began to envision the life and times of Don Draper back in the early ‘90s – Leo Burnett’ creative head Draper Daniels, Foote Cone & Belding founder Emerson Foote and George Lois, Art Director of Papert Koenig Lois.

Other legendary ad men who could’ve informed Weiner’s depiction of the industry include commercial artist McCauley “Mac” Conner and graphic designer Paul Rand.

An exhibit featuring the editorial and commercial work of “one of the defining illustrators of America’s golden age of advertising [who] created the look of a generation,” includes samples of Connor’s artwork between the late ‘40s and early ‘60s, as well as advertising tearsheets and correspondence with editors and art directors. “Mac Conner: A New York Life,” runs at London’s House of Illustration from April 1st to June 28th .

Everything Is Design: The Work of Paul Rand, “one of the most influential designers in the history of print” and a “visionary of modern branding,” includes iconic logos designed for such clients IBM, ABC and UPS, along with advertisements, posters and corporate brochures created between 1936 and 1994. The exhibit runs until July 19th at the Museum of the City of New York.

Finally, “Mad Men” is being celebrated with an interactive outdoor sculpture installation – a silhouette of Don Draper sitting on a bench outside the Time & Life Building, where the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners were located – that will be on display from now through the summer. Gothamist predicts it will be “the most Instagrammed bench in NYC,” as it is long enough to accommodate a couple of people.

Talk about art imitating life imitating art …

Photo Courtesy of AMC

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