Liz Kalodner is the executive vice president of CBS Consumer Products. She organized the excellent art exhibit “Star Trek: 50 Artists. 50 Years.” that debuted at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con in honor of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. The exhibit features 50 different artists, commissioned to design unique pieces to commemorate the franchise’s incredible longevity. The artwork comes from all over the world, artists united in their love of the themes and characters of Star Trek, and working in many different media. Kalodner took some time at the exhibit debut to give me a guided tour about the art and the enduring nature of the Star Trek franchise.
Kalodner found it remarkable that the original series lasted only three seasons. Yet, she said, “it still has resonance; its impact on people is kind of stunning.” Although the series, which debuted in September 1966, lived on for only 79 episodes, it found itself in syndication—reruns played in the after-school hours. “That’s what changed everything, the fact that it was in syndication and people found it, is really what allowed it to take off.”
Then, of course, came the movies and other series. “Yes,” she said. “Six series in total including the animated. This (Star Trek Beyond, which premiered during Comic-Con) will be the 13th movie. Paramount just announced a 14th movie. CBS just announced a new TV series coming.” Star Trek: Discovery will debut on CBS (and Netflix) in January 2017.
I asked Kalodner what makes Trek so enduring. “We’ve talked a lot about what makes Star Trek, Star Trek,” she noted. “But I think it’s a couple things. It was ultimately a show about optimism and hope, and this notion that we could all work together for good. And what’s sort of startling and a little bit disturbing sometimes, is that, that message is still as critical today, as it was then and we haven’t completely learned the lesson.”
The original Trek debuted at the height of the Vietnam War. At the height of don’t trust anyone over 30, feminism, civil rights, it was the time of incredible turmoil here, and here we are 50 years later, and we’re right back where we were. Kalodner agreed. “We hope that Star Trek today, can make an impact. Can remind people what’s important.”
The Star Trek themes of diversity, inclusion, working better together could be no more relevant than they are today—a time of increasing xenophobia, international and domestic turmoil. My interview with Kalodner was my first during Comic-Con, but the notion that we are somehow, in some ways, where we were 50 years ago in the state of our world and politics framed every conversation I had during the week with actors, directors, writers, and fans.
But here, at this moment, we were celebrating Star Trek through art. Walking through the exhibit, I viewed expressions of love, humor, and so much creativity. “The thing we realized,” said Kalodner, “is what we do for a living every day is create. There’s so much creativity in Star Trek and it has influenced so many artists in different media and so we came up with this idea to invite 50 artists to give us their vision. It’s 2D and 3D, it’s painting, it’s illustration, digital, graphic design, it’s everything. So many of the artists talked about what was iconic about Star Trek and what’s so interesting to me is you’ll see a lot of pieces that focus on Mr. Spock for example, but they’re all different.”
There is a lot of Spock in the exhibit. But it’s little wonder why. Spock is a complex and complicated character: logic and reason, bottled emotion, nature and nurture in constant conflict. He is an “other” no matter where he is, either on his home planet of Vulcan or on among Earthlings. And for artists, writers, and most of us in so-called geek culture, he is “us.” Kalodner added, “That conflicting nature of which he had quite obviously but we all probably have.
The artists were commissioned after much research. “We really researched artists that he thought were interesting that were fans of Star Trek,” Kalodner noted. “We wanted to make sure that we represented different media and we wanted to make sure that we represented the world. So we have artists from ten different countries. Because we wanted diversity. It’s men and women and different countries, but it’s about diversity. That was an important outline for us. And the truth is we thought we’d have to go through hundreds and hundreds of artists to find 50 but people were so enthusiastic about doing it, that they responded like that. We got our short list.” There are even U.S. postage stamps (coming out in September).
One of Kalodner’s favorite pieces is a three-dimensional piece by Chinese sculptor Johnson Tsang she calls “Vulcan Baby,” but is actually called “Looking for a Star.” She explained, “From the moment I saw it, I just thought it was fascinating. The idea is that the adult is transferring knowledge to the baby and the baby is looking skyward and sort of bringing hope to the adult. That sort of passage of knowledge, I thought was incredibly interesting. That’s what I’m saying when we talk about Spock. Here’s a whole different interpretation of Spock.”
There are several other Spock pieces, including one by the late Leonard Nimoy (who passed away earlier this year). One is a clever homage to the 50th anniversary (shown at the top of the article), a take on the Vulcan “Live long and prosper” greeting by Rocco Malatesta. Kalodner said, “the artist picked up something that was so iconic and then did a little bit of twist so that Spock’s really addressing you about the 50th anniversary.”
Nimoy’s photographic piece is reflects ‘60s pop art icon Any Warhol. “You know he talked about how photography for him,” explained Kalodner, “was a wonderful creative outlet that didn’t involve budgeting issues, because he was a director as well. It didn’t involve managing writers and producers and it’s all his own and his own interpretation. We were so happy that he did this piece before he died.”
There’s also a contribution from actress Mayim Bialik (Big Bang Theory) and artist Ross Christopher Ryan. “Bialik also has a PhD in Neuroscience,” Kalodner reminded me. “We were thrilled about the notion of her just loving these characters. In the piece, we see Bialik as Spock, Kirk, and Yeoman Janice Rand (from way back in early season one!). “She had a great time doing it. We had a great time with her. But again, just a completely different interpretation.”
Gary Pullman’s piece speaks to the duality of Spock. “It’s from the famous ‘Mirror Mirror’ episode. He talks about how he drew the character separately. He didn’t just flip the characters, which I thought was so interesting because Spock has this much more menacing look so even though it’s the same, it’s not the same.” It’s clear from the eyes, the set of the jaw…the duality is the opposing images.
Kalodner pointed out a piece by Nick Walker that features Lt. Uhura. “It’s a striking piece that is a take off on the green lady [from ‘The Cage’ episode], and what’s interesting is it talks about how even though Uhura was so distinctly African-American, she transcended race.” She’s almost deified with a halo, creating a sort of black Madonna.
There are two Hot Wheels pieces as well. Kalodner explained that “one is from a famous photograph of Leonard Nimoy in 1964, who was standing on the Paramount lot during a break from shooting, standing by his own car. It was done by the head designer.” The other, she explained “is the Borg cube made of Hot Wheels cars. It’s from the Hot Wheels cars, because the Borg was you know, sort of this hodgepodge. It has its own car battery that’s powering its green light. You really see ingenuity behind all of these pieces.”
A big part of ‘60s-‘70s pop culture were the cereal boxes, and artist Juan Ortiz created a realistic box of “Galile-Os,” down to the cut-out trading cards on the back of the box as the “prize inside!”
The exhibit at Comic-Con is just the start, explained Kalodner. “After Comic-Con, it will go to the creation convention in Las Vegas in two weeks, in August, and then it goes to the Canadian National Exhibition up in Toronto. After that it comes to the Paley Center in New York. Then it’s going over to the UK for a couple things, to Paris and then it will end up, in January on the Star Trek cruise in the Bahamas. Then it keeps going from there. The entire collection may be viewed online at the exhibit’s website.
While I was visiting Star Trek: 50 Artists. 50 Years, I also had the chance to catch up with Adam Nimoy (Leonard’s son) for a chat. That’s up next, so stay tuned!
All images courtesy of CBS.