By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
COLUMBUS—Most people know artist Maurice Sendak today as the creator of children’s book classics such as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen.” A new exhibition of his work delves into that reputation and a lesser-known aspect of his immense output: his work as a cartoonist 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 designer, “they didn’t see past the fact that he did so much more than that,” she said.
“Wild Things are Happening” opened this month at the Columbus Museum of Art and runs until March 5, 2023. It is the first major retrospective of Sendak’s work since his death in 2012 and largest and most complete to date.
The exhibit takes its name from a 1990s ad campaign Sendak did for Bell Atlantic that featured characters from Wild Things promoting “fast, reliable internet service.”
The exhibit features more than 150 sketches, storyboards and paintings of work Sendak did for his own books, including “Higglety Pigglety Pop!”, which he based on the fatal illness of his beloved Sealyham terrier Jennie. The exhibition also features some of Sendak’s most famous illustrations of the work of other writers, such as Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Little Bear” books.
To commemorate Sendak’s affinity for Mickey Mouse – who first appeared in 1928, the year Sendak was born – the exhibit includes an illustration commissioned by TV Guide in 1978 for Mickey Mouse’s 50th anniversary featuring Sendak, also 50, waving at a mirror as a cartoon character. waves back.
At the end of the 1970s, Sendak embarked on a second career as a costume designer and scenographer. His opera design work included Krása’s ‘Brundibar’, Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ and ‘The Goose from Cairo’ and Prokofiev’s ‘The Love for Three Oranges’. A video rehearsed at the exhibition showcases the design work Sendak did for a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker commissioned in 1981 by Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Sendak also designed sets and costumes and wrote the book and lyrics for the musical “Really Rosie” based on her book of the same name, with music by Carole King.
And then there’s “Where The Wild Things Are,” featuring the fantastical nocturnal adventures of a boy named Max on an island of monsters. Since its publication in 1963, the book has sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 40 languages.
The exhibit includes sketches and completed paintings of rarely seen “Wild Things,” and traces the history of the book from the early 1953 drawings 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 creepy nature of Max’s fantasy “forget that my hero is having the best time of his life, and he’s in control with flippant aplomb,” Sendak said of 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 exhibit tries to convey, said Jonathan Weinberg, artist and curator of the Maurice Sendak Foundation, which is housed in the house. . where Sendak worked and lived from 1972 until his death. Most of that time he lived with his partner, psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Glynn.
“Maurice had this incredible range,” Weinberg said. “And if he couldn’t do something, if he didn’t have that style at the time for what was needed, he would figure it out and learn.”
When it comes to her work for children, Sendak never preached or tried to instill stifling morals, Caponera said. Instead, he understands that, as sometimes happens in real life, children are the bravest, the ones who triumph and are in control.
“Maurice used to say that a good children’s book is a bit like creating a guerrilla act,” Caponera said. “You put things in there that the kids see, and the kids get, and then the kids have to kind of explain to the parents, ‘Oh, no, it’s not scary.'”