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Art Directors Guild’s New Renaissance Moves Downtown


Art Directors GuildIt was a busy week in the February-long run-up to the Oscars, with the Directors Guild of America and the Art Directors Guild sharing not only initials, but awards ceremonies on the same weekend. While most of these shows remain in familiar venues for years on end, it was the ADG that took a bold non-Hollywood and non-Westside step, heading downtown to the InterContinental Hotel’s Wilshire Grand Ballroom, just a stone’s throw – or do we mean statue’s? – from where numerous Depression and War-era Oscar ceremonies were held at the Baltimore.

Though the host for the evening, David Alan Grier, instead likened it to “right next door to where the Lakers lose.”

Still, it was winning, and the appreciation thereof, that remained the theme of the evening. While a copious list of the night’s honorees has already been published here, it was Hanna Beachler in winning the Fantasy Film design award for Black Panther, who noted that “this took an army!” Whether those particular “troops” were among the official winners or not.

Hannah Beachler at the 23rd Annual ADG Awards

That graciousness was echoed by the period film winner Fiona Crombie for The Favourite, and ADG head Nelson Coates, who won the contemporary award for Crazy Rich Asians. 

In his purple attire and sneakers, Coates also epitomized how much “design” winds up on the bodies of attendees at this particular show. A clearly farklempt Coates talked about the support he’s had going back to his parents. “I even have the Legos they bought me!,” he declared.

Other declarations included that of scenic artist Jim Fiorito, one of the night’s special honorees, who said to the assembled they were “the new renaissance!” But even a renaissance requires a certain nuts-and-bolts approach, as Jeannine Oppewall, herself, an Oscar nominee in years past, for work like L.A. Confidential and Pleasantville, noted that “great sets cannot be pulled out of a designer’s ass,” a perhaps more colorful version of Beachler’s observation about the work taking an army.

Jeannine Oppewall at the 23rd Annual ADG Awards

Oppewall also talked about “achieving art in the face of overbearing commerce,” and one of the pleasures of so many of the guild award shows is how strongly the art and crafts of filmmaking – this year to be relegated to commercial breaks during the Oscar telecast – are celebrated.

But in the end, it came down to a quote from designer Charles Eames that had always stuck with her: “Thank it forward.”

Looking forward to Oscar night, only Beachler or Crombie will hold a statue, as they’re competing in the single production design category, along with the likes of Roma, First Man, and Mary Poppins Returns. 

Even if Oscar relegates the winner to a commercial break, the ADG awards proved that a new renaissance was afoot (and lurking in paintings, drawings, and rendering software), just blocks from where the film biz honored its original renaissance, from silents to talkies, nearly a century ago.

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