Exhibit brings viewers back to the phantasmagorical age

Exhibit brings viewers back to the phantasmagorical age

Written by Talja Ketchum

Each step down the red curtained corridor of the new “Phantasmagoria” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is a step into the past. The exhibition features Richard Balzer’s large personal collection of all things phantasmagoria. More than just a fun word, phantasmagoria was one of the first forms of horror movies introduced during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which used magic lanterns, slides, projectors, lights, shadows, smells, smoke, and spooky images to immerse crowds into the experience.

After a brief introduction of the history and the meaning of phantasmagoria, viewers are instructed by a message on the wall to, “follow the curtained path to your left to see for yourself what everyone was talking about 200 years ago,” leading them down a dimly lit, red curtained corridor illuminated by yellow lanterns.

By Talja Ketchum

At the end of the hall, a small screen projects images of ghouls, goblins, and regular everyday interactions twisted into horror, coupled with eerie screeches and screams. After this immersive viewing of what audiences saw back in the 1800s, museum attendees follow the light into the real exhibition. The exhibit, which is composed of two rooms, is filled with paintings, books, short history lessons, and moving images; enough for anyone to become entranced by the concept of phantasmagoria.

Unlike most art exhibits which caution touching, standing too close, or taking pictures, the MFA’s “Phantasmagoria” exhibition offers attendees a different experience. Similar to the enticing and engaging format of the art of phantasmagoria, the MFA’s exhibit is as interactive as it gets. Tiny descriptions on the wall invite attendees to press buttons which reveal multiple images. By shifting through various perspectives, visitors can peer beneath paintings to view not one, but three works of art.

The exhibit is more than just an immersive experience into the existence of phantasmagoria and the history surrounding it, it is also an ode to the collectors of the world and a tribute to the life and collection of Richard Balzer. The exhibition features a documentary film made by Richard Balzer’s son, which serves as a tribute to the life he lived in conjunction with the wonderful collection he amassed. The film allows the viewer to explore the unique curiosities of one man, and reflects upon how we all collect objects in different ways. For some it might be concert ticket stubs, postcards of places they have been, or even something as strange as phantasmagoria memorabilia.

Not only does this exhibit engage the senses, but it allows viewers to leave with a greater sense of how film and society has evolved. The exhibition explores how heightened emotions and new artistic forms of expression blossomed as a response to the rationality of the Enlightenment. Through the collections of images, sculptures, and written texts, a viewer learns that phantasmagoria was more than just a thing to do or to see, it was also a reflection of past norms, culture, and beliefs.

Richard Balzer’s collection is located in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery and is currently on display until June 24th, 2018.

%d bloggers like this: