Making Mod: Mad Men Comes to Life at Museum of the Moving Image

Gabrielle Golenda Gabrielle Golenda

It’s one thing when a work of fiction is so immersive that it’s billed as a “time machine,” but even better when going behind the scenes actually makes it more magical. Starting this weekend, “Mad Men” fans will have the opportunity set foot in the office of Don Draper. Dripping in Herman Miller, the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) will unveil Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men on March 14. The exhibit will feature Don’s office, as well as the Draper Kitchen, over 25 iconic costumes, hundreds of props, advertising art, video clips, as well as personal notes and research material from Weiner, the show’s creator, writer, and executive producer.

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

The set for Don Draper’s office. Photo by Thanassi Karageorgiou / courtesy Museum of the Moving Image

“‘Mad Men’ is much more than a popular television series, it has become a cultural touchstone inspiring a renewed interest in a critical time in the country’s history,” writes curator Barbara Miller. “With the generous participation of Matthew Weiner and his production team, we are able to reveal how Weiner’s profound commitment to exploring cultural history and human relationships informed the production of ‘Mad Men,’ and offer unique insight into the creative process behind the series.”

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

An installation of the “Mad Men” writers’ room, including elements from the conference room in the production offices at Los Angeles Center Studios where the series was shot, suggesting how the room looked as the writers worked on the last episode of the first half of season seven. Photo by Thanassi Karageorgiou / courtesy Museum of the Moving Image

Sure enough, the exhibition provides insight into Weiner’s detail-oriented approach to design. The fastidious yet sumptuous period detail paints a vivid portrait of just how much research and effort went into creating an authentic “Mad Men” aesthetic. As the story goes, Weiner vetoed the Eames lounge chair because he found it cliché. Instead of relying on iconic pieces as the focal point of the set design, he took the opportunity to draw inspiration from studying vintage issues of magazines like Interior Design and House Beautiful, as well as vintage Herman Miller ads designed by in-house design director and legend, Irving Harper.

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

Installation view of “Creating Character” section. Shown: costumes and props for characters including Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway/Harris, Roger Sterling. Photo by Thanassi Karageorgiou / courtesy Museum of the Moving Image

That said, we are particularly excited about the installation featuring the writers’ room, a true-to-scale recreation of the room where Weiner and his team crafted story ideas and scripts for the series, complete with story notes, research material, and other elements created and used by Mad Men’s writers. There is also a section devoted to the origin of the series, with selections from Weiner’s personal collection of books; clips from films that inspired his approach to story and character; and script pages from Weiner’s early screenplay The Horseshoe, which marks the first ‘appearance’ of the character who would become Don Draper.

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

© Thanassi Karageorgiou

The Drapers’ kitchen. Photo by Thanassi Karageorgiou / courtesy Museum of the Moving Image

Don’t be scared: Visiting the exhibition will NOT destroy the illusion of the show. On the contrary, seeing Weiner’s inner workings gives you a materially grounded understanding into the intricately developed characters. Curator Miller says that even after working on the exhibit she is still not sick of “Mad Men.” She recommends rewatching it after you see the exhibit, because you notice things you normally wouldn’t — after all, we’re in what is considered to be the golden age of TV for a reason: television series are able to go into the kind of detail that is not possible in a two-hour feature film. In some ways, the exhibition is less about the TV show itself and more about gaining perspective into the ad age and Weiner’s creative process.

Matthew Weiner and cast and crew on the set of “Mad Men.” Image via AMC

Weiner himself will kick off the exhibition with a live conversation about the creation and production of the series on March 20. He has also curated a ten-film series, including Vertigo, Blue Velvet, and Les Bonnes Femmes, of classics that inspired the series and were required viewing for everyone who worked on the show, screening from March 14 to April 26. In May, the Museum will also present panel discussions about advertising past and present.

Don Draper in repose. Image via AMC

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Menwill be on view at MOMI through June 14, 2015, and coincides with the series’ final seven episodes, which air on AMC beginning Sunday, April 5, at 10:00pm ET/PT. (Here’s a tip: look for the box of Don Draper’s stuff, which supposedly reveals his ‘true’ identity.) And if you can’t make it to Astoria, or even if you can, you should look into other “Mad Men” events around the country.

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