The first image to catch your eye in the Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition about the director Spike Lee could be a wall projection of “Malcolm X,” the 1992 movie staring Denzel Washington. Nearby hang artworks of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Trayvon Martin, whose killing inspired the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Elsewhere, a sign from the segregation era reads “Colored Waiting Room.”
The Black History and Culture section is a jarring opening to an exhibition that guides visitors through themes, concepts and objects that inspired Lee, 66, as he became a defining figure in the Black community. He donated more than 400 items for the show, “Spike Lee: Creative Sources,” which opens on Saturday and runs through Feb. 4, 2024.
“You don’t have to really be an art aficionado to appreciate so much of this exhibition, because Spike is not only one of those but he’s a bibliophile, he’s a sports fan, he’s a lover of history,” Kimberli Gant, the exhibition’s curator, said.
Lee has been nominated for five Academy Awards, winning the best adapted screenplay Oscar for “BlacKkKlansman” (2018). In addition to his popular films — he labels them “joints” — such as “Do the Right Thing” and “Inside Man,” Lee has become a staple in the courtside seats at Madison Square Garden for New York Knicks games.
At the Brooklyn Museum, walls splashed in eye-popping bold colors contrast with the wood accents and paneling that turn gallery spaces into what resembles a movie set. Visitors can walk through seven sections divided into categories such as music and sports that Gant said she hoped would appeal to a broad group of people.
“I don’t want this show to be so heavy that you’re leaving depressed,” Gant said. “There’s a lot of heavy material, but there’s joy here, too.”
Lee, who was born in Atlanta but raised in Brooklyn, has set many of his movies in New York’s boroughs. One section of the exhibition features news articles about Lee in The Daily News and The New York Times, as well as a photograph of him as a child on the cover of New York magazine.
The room emphasizes “Do the Right Thing,” the 1989 film that examines racial tension between Black people and Italian Americans in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Memorabilia from the movie, which was nominated for two Academy Awards and has been preserved by the National Film Registry, includes the Brooklyn Dodgers jersey that Lee wore as the character Mookie.
Large film posters greet visitors in the section dedicated to movies and cinema, where Lee’s Oscar trophy for “BlacKkKlansman,” as well as the honorary one he received in 2015 for lifetime achievement, can be found in a glass case mounted on the wall.
Also on display are gifts from other celebrities, including signed posters by the “Jurassic Park” director Steven Spielberg and the “Boyz N the Hood” director John Singleton. An adjacent room focused on photography has a letter written by former President Barack Obama.
The largest section in “Spike Lee: Creative Sources” is reserved for sports, with a small room solely for Knicks memorabilia. Those souvenirs include a jersey signed by Carmelo Anthony and a net from the 1970 N.B.A. finals, when the Knicks won their first title by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
A larger room holds autographed items from LeBron James, Serena Williams, Jim Brown and Michael Jordan, as well as news articles signed by Stephen Curry after he broke the N.B.A. record for most career 3-pointers, a 2021 game that Lee attended at the Garden.
Aligning with the social justice theme of the exhibition’s entrance, large portions are dedicated to Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball, and the boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Near the exit is a signed jersey of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who in 2016 ignited a fierce debate on athletes’ rights to protest by kneeling during the national anthem.