NEW YORK — Spike Lee is in the business of vision-making.
Across four decades, the filmmaking icon has been creating, exploring and crafting his view of what should be in the world and onscreen with cultural touchpoints like “Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Malcolm X,” to barely scratch the surface. Now, his visionary career is being honored and examined with a comprehensive exhibition, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” at the Brooklyn Museum.
Plotting the museum exhibit “was a process,” Lee says at a Tuesday preview of the exhibit, which opens to the public Saturday.
“You just don’t stick something up on the wall,” says Lee, 66. “You have different spaces and you move back and forth. And, you know, you try to make sure that you’re telling the story.”
The exhibit features more than 450 pieces from Lee’s personal collection, ranging from original Andy Warhol and Gordon Parks photos to signed New York Knicks jerseys and collectibles from his movie moments through the years.
For the VIP preview event, clad in a uniform of sorts, Lee donned a royal blue Brooklyn Dodgers letterman jacket and matching hat, a gray T-shirt emblazoned with baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson’s number, 42, white pants and blue sneakers – topped with a pair of his signature thick-rimmed spectacles, in complementing blue and white stripes.
The director unwittingly attracts a constant stream of onlookers following in a pack as he excitedly moves from room to room.
The multi-room “immersive installation” leads museumgoers through Black history and culture, Lee’s family, his hometown of Brooklyn (“Give it up for Fort Greene,” Lee shouts at one point in the night), sports, music, cinema history and photography, with pieces including the regal purple suit he wore when accepting his first Oscar in 2019 and New York Daily News newspaper clippings from when he was filming 1989’s “Do the Right Thing.”
It’s vibrant in color and rich in history, celebratory in its Blackness along the way. The collection, organized by curator Kimberli Gant and curatorial assistant Indira A. Abiskaroon, ensures there are artifacts for casual consumers and deep-rooted fans alike.
But Lee is most sentimental about the items that represent his family: “My grandparents are no longer here. My mother, who passed away when I was in college. My father passed away recently. So there’s a section, there’s a whole remembrance in honor of them, because without them I would not have done what I’ve been able to do.”
The passion for his craft – and his creative references – is evident as the filmmaker tells stories about specific memories to the inner circle surrounding him Tuesday night. “Changed everything,” Lee says as he points to a photo of him next to Michael Jordan, whom he directed and starred alongside in the über-popular ’90s Air Jordan commercials.
At one point, Lee calls for a microphone that appears in his hands moments later, recounting with some dramatic flourishes when at 13 he witnessed the Knicks win the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Game 7.
The cadre of close friends on hand to fête Lee were industry veterans and collaborators Laurence Fishburne (“School Daze”), John Leguizamo (“Summer of Sam”), Adam Driver (“BlackKkKlansman”) and Nia Long (“The Best Man”), plus “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts, “Rescue Me” actor Dean Winters and more.
“Strike’s over!” Lee proclaims. “I’m a director/writer” focused on “working and writing” for the time being, Lee says (though he jokes an I’d-have-to-kill-you clause accompanies information about what he has in the works).
Don’t let the exhibit fool you, Lee isn’t interested in summing up a life and career that’s still in progress.
“Legacy is not done.”