Friday, September 7, 2012

Batman Back In Burgh: Art Exhibit Pays Homage to The Dark Knight - The Duquensne Duke

Batman has returned to Pittsburgh in the ToonSeum’s newest exhibit “Pittsburgh as Gotham,” a collection of cartoon art and memorabilia from the filming of The Dark Knight Rises, which took place in Pittsburgh last summer.

The ToonSeum, a small cartoon art museum in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, opened its Batman tribute exhibit on July 21 as a testimony to how involved the city has been in the Batman franchise, said executive director and founder of the Toonseum Joe Wos.

This exhibit, which closes Oct. 7, features collectibles from the popular movie and comic franchise, including the mask worn by actor Christian Bale in the latest movie installment and a bat-shaped batarang used as an on-screen weapon. Both items are on loan directly from Warner Bros. Studios, Wos said.

“The mask is definitely the most popular item,” said Wos, adding that most visitors to the museum are surprised that it is there.

Other items include original comic book art and storyboards from the earliest issues of Batman comics. All the panels chosen were drawn by Pittsburgh artists who worked for the publication, including Scott McDaniel and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Rogers, Wos said.

“You can see their editing,” said Mandi Bridgeman, director of marketing and programming at the ToonSeum. “You can see all their lines and notes from before it was published.”

According to Wos, most visitors to the museum are unaware of the contributions that Pittsburgh has made to the Batman franchise.

“I think people will be very impressed by the number of artists from Pittsburgh who have been involved in the comic,” Wos said. “[The exhibit] is an in-depth exploration of how Pittsburgh and Gotham are connected.”

The latest Pittsburgh contribution to the franchise was as a backdrop to movie director Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in his Batman trilogy. The filming significantly affected life in the city, said senior Physician’s Assistant major Colleen Young, who was an orientation team leader for a group of freshmen that summer.

Young and her team encountered the film crew on their tour of Pittsburgh, witnessing a fleet of armored cars, Catwoman on a motorcycle, a car crash and flurries of fake snow in Market Square.

“Not a lot of my friends are going to be able to say that they saw a movie filmed by their school,” Young said, adding that the freshmen that year were extremely excited to be a part of an important moment in their city’s history.

“My freshman year, I had my first Primanti Brothers sandwich,” Young said, “but these kids saw a movie being filmed. I think it’s really great that it was one of their first experiences.”

Pittsburgh’s transformation into Gotham is immortalized in the Toonseum’s exhibit, which features the original location photographs given to Nolan before filming began. His additions to the sets, drawn in pencil, are clearly visible on many of the photographs.

“You’re seeing [the photographs] from the perspective of the producer and the creative team,” said Bridgeman, “what was put in the movie before it was put in the movie.”

Andre and Theresa Dahlman, tourists visiting Pittsburgh from their Washington D.C. home, found this aspect of the exhibit particularly interesting.

“We’re just tourists stumbling around Pittsburgh, so it’s fun to see how they made the city into the movie,” said Andre, referring to a set of photographs covered in Nolan’s notes. Theresa agreed.

“You can recognize it,” she said. “When I came in here, it kind of hit me.”

Wos predicted that Pittsburgh’s movie transformation into Gotham will increase the level of what he calls “pop tourism,” or popular art tourism for the city, drawing in people who are specifically interested in Batman as a subject of cartoon art.

“People will come to Pittsburgh just because it’s the closest they can get to Gotham City,” Wos said.

Though the Dahlmans did not travel to Pittsburgh with the goal of experiencing Gotham, they said that the Toonsem’s exhibit added interest to their stay in the city.

“I think that it does make people more aware [of the connection],” Theresa said, adding that she and her husband are now able to recognize Pittsburgh landmarks and the roles they played in the movie.

For Andre, the effect of the museum is more nostalgic than informative.

“I grew up reading the comics,” Andre said. “You grow up with anything and you internalize it... I thought it would be fun to see a professional take on it.”
According to Wos, being involved in the Batman franchise has helped Pittsburgh recover from its grittier image and assert itself a successful, vibrant city.

“We have supplanted New York and Chicago,” Wos said, two cities that were cast as Gotham in previous Batman movies. “If there’s anything that people take from the exhibit, I want it to be sense of pride in their city. It’s a beautiful city. It’s a remarkable city. We don’t have to be New York and we don’t have to be Chicago. We’re Pittsburgh.”

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