Who was Violet Bick? Movie buffs may remember her as a background character played by Gloria Grahame in Frank Capra’s 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life. For artist Cindy Smith, she’s the starting point for an investigation of gender roles and the varied threads that weave the tapestry of history. Smith’s project The Moral Museum: Selections From the Bick Archive, currently on display at Otis College’s Ben Maltz Gallery, collects an array of objects left behind by the fictitious Bick, and traces her life from her birth in 1923 in Seneca Falls (also the starting point of the American women’s-rights movement), through the founding of her design company, her writing, activism and eventual death in 1989. The show also includes a 34-minute faux documentary of a conversation between a journalist and a feminist filmmaker who has remade It’s a Wonderful Life. The short isn’t much as a cinematic work, but the conversation covers aspects of film history, theories of genre and Brecht’s notion of distanciation; there are also incisive comments on shifts in American myths, social values and notions of evil. The filmmaker’s comments are oddly compelling because it’s odd to hear such smart analysis outside the world of academia, and they nicely expand the conceits of an exhibition where you find yourself tumbling through fact and fiction on your way to a point of critical reflection. Brecht would be proud! Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design; thru March 31. (310) 665-6905.

—Holly Willis

LA Weekly