Columbus art museum debuts major Maurice Sendak exhibit

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Most people today know artist Maurice Sendak as the creator of classic children’s books like ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘In the Night Kitchen.’

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Most people today know artist Maurice Sendak as the creator of classic children’s books like ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘In the Night Kitchen.’ A new exhibition of his work sheds light on this reputation and a lesser-known side of his immense body of work: his work as a designer for opera, theatre, film and television.

“We wanted people to understand that Maurice was actually a serious artist,” said Lynn Caponera, executive director of the Maurice Sendak Foundation in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Although most knew him as an illustrator and picture book artist, “they didn’t see past the fact that he did a lot more than that,” she said.

Wild Things Are Happening opened at the Columbus Museum of Art this month and runs through March 5, 2023. It is the first major retrospective of Sendak’s work since his death in 2012, and the largest and most complete to date.

The exhibit takes its name from a 1990s ad campaign Sendak ran for Bell Atlantic in which Wild Things characters promoted “a fast, reliable internet service.”

The exhibit features more than 150 sketches, storyboards, and paintings of work Sendak made for his own books, including Higglety Pigglety Pop!, which he based on the terminal illness of his beloved Sealyham terrier, Jennie. The exhibition also features some of Sendak’s most famous illustrations of other writers’ works, such as Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear books.

To commemorate Sendak’s affinity for Mickey Mouse — which first emerged in 1928, the year Sendak was born — the exhibit includes an illustration that TV Guide waves back in 1978’s 50th birthday.

In the late 1970s, Sendak embarked on a second career as a costume and set designer. His operatic designs have included Krása’s Brundibar, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and The Goose of Cairo, and Prokofiev’s The Love for the Three Oranges. A video, repeated in the exhibition, shows the design work Sendak did for a new production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker commissioned by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1981.

Sendak also designed sets and costumes, and wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Really Rosie, based on his book of the same name, with music by Carole King.

And then there’s Where The Wild Things Are, about the fantastic nocturnal adventures of a boy named Max on an island full of monsters. Since its publication in 1963, the book has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 40 languages.

Featuring rarely seen “Wild Things” sketches and finished paintings, the exhibition traces the book’s history from the drawings in early 1953 to its publication. Also on display: costumes from Spike Jonze’s 2009 film Where the Wild Things Are, based on the book.

Adults, troubled by the frightening nature of Max’s imagination, “forget that my hero is having the time of his life and that he is controlling the situation with airy sovereignty,” Sendak said upon accepting the 1964 Caldecott Medal for the book .

Sendak was an admirer of many artists and illustrators, including William Blake, Walt Disney, and Beatrix Potter, a devotion the show seeks to convey, said Jonathan Weinberg, an artist and curator of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, which is housed in the home where Sendak is from 1972 until his death worked and lived. Most of the time he lived with his partner, the psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Glynn.

“Maurice had this incredible range,” said Weinberg. “And if he couldn’t do something, if he didn’t have that style for what it took at that moment, he would find out and learn.”

When it came to his work with children, Sendak never preached or tried to instill stuffy morals, Caponera said. Instead, he understands that, as sometimes happens in real life, children are the brave, the ones who triumph and are in control.

“Maurice always said that a good children’s book is like staging a guerrilla war,” Caponera said. “You put things in there that the kids see and the kids get, and then the kids kind of have to tell the parents, ‘Oh no, that’s not scary.'”

Andrew Welsh-Huggins, The Associated Press

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