A Gothic Tale, a newly commissioned film and installation for the Legion of Honor by Alexandre Singh, draws inspiration from the Gothic literary tradition of 19th century Europe, as well as San Francisco’s place in the cinematic history of film noir (such as Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai, 1947, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958).
A Gothic Tale is Singh’s first solo presentation in a West Coast institution.
Staged in the Legion of Honor’s galleries of medieval art, A Gothic Tale introduces Singh’s imaginative universe through his debut short film, “The Appointment,” a playful thriller that unfolds with the fatalism of film noir.
Embracing the twisted and fantastical traits of Gothic literature from E. T. A. Hoffmann to Roald Dahl, the film is a darkly comic tale of doubling and mistaken identity. Henry Salt, an enfant terrible of letters, wakes from a nightmare to find a disturbing entry in his diary: “12 o’clock at the restaurant La Folie.”
But whom is Henry meeting, and why doesn’t he remember making this appointment? When no one shows, Henry becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. Charging through a series of surreal encounters, he discovers that the truth is more disturbing than he could have possibly imagined.
Conceptualized and designed by Singh with art historian Natalie Musteata, A Gothic Tale begins with a selection of works from the Fine Arts Museums’ encyclopedic collection that embody one of the key tropes of the Gothic tradition: the doppelgänger.
In this eerie presage to the film, works that appear to be duplicates, such as prints of Roman tombs by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and biblical scenes by Albrecht Dürer, will be exhibited in a striking scenography of mirrored walls, in which the works of art, and viewers alike, are endlessly reflected. Together, these works resonate with the founding and history of the Legion of Honor, itself not only a copy of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris but also a funerary structure, located atop a former cemetery, and built to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the First World War.
“A Gothic Tale’s installation of works from the collection pays tribute to the legacy of the Legion of Honor’s groundbreaking curator Jermayne MacAgy,” states Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “In the 1940s, MacAgy revolutionized the practice of exhibition making through her innovative installation designs, that emphasized transcultural and transhistorical narratives.”