In one his most well-known essays, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin wrote, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” In many regards, Benjamin is totally right, but there’s something to be said about art reproduced or solely created for other art — in this case, the paintings and sculptures in films that are often ignored by nature of being part of a dressed set. But should these pieces be considered actual art? Most of the works behind characters in famous films of the 1940s and ’50s, the golden era of film noir and gothic melodramas, hardly had any impact on plot, so they probably ended up in some studio warehouse, at best.
Stephen Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert’s The Dark Galleries gives these works of film art their proper due. It doesn’t dive further into the question of whether these pieces qualify as works of art or just reproductions made specifically for decoration’s sake, but it does provide a museum-like appreciation of the portraits from the last decades of black and white movies.