Through original drawings, sketches, costumes, and sets, this exhibition examines Maurice Sendak’s art, his Jewish identity, and his latest work, Brundibar – a picture book and opera created in collaboration with Tony Kushner.
This exhibition explores the 50-year career of illustrator and author Maurice Sendak. Best known for children’s classics such as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, Sendak is a multi-faceted artist whose work also includes stage sets and costume design for both opera and ballet. Born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Sendak grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, during which many members of his family were lost. Three main themes pervade his oeuvre: the Old World of East European Jewry; Sendak’s own experiences growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, influenced by American popular culture; and the artist’s desire to process the horrors of the Holocaust while reconciling with Germanic culture by embracing its richness, bringing the artist back full circle to his own past.
His latest work, Brundibar, is both a picture book and opera created in collaboration with Tony Kushner, and based on a 1938 children’s opera about the triumph over evil. With Brundibar, Sendak said he had found “a kind of surprising, peaceful feeling. . . . I did a deep dive into myself, a spiritual shlep. This is the first book I’ve really done for children instead of myself.” Recently, however, the artist has admitted that the initial sense of release has elapsed, that Brundibar has opened things, instead of bringing closure. He now feels that we can never truly overcome our own demons, “never tame ‘the wild things.’”
Tracing Sendak’s work from 1960 to the present, the exhibition is filled with projects in different media, and represents various stages of the artistic process. The exhibition gives visitors a rare opportunity to view original drawings by Maurice Sendak. Nearly 140 works are on view including 112 original drawings by the artist. Preliminary and final drawings, artwork for posters, and theatrical sets and costumes created from Sendak’s designs are among the exhibition’s highlights. Lavish ballet and opera sets and costumes for productions of the operas, The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel, and Brundibar, and the ballet production of Where the Wild Things Are are on display.
While the exhibition is intended for an adult audience, children will enjoy it as well. One gallery has been carpeted and pillowed and transformed into a children’s reading room inspired by Max’s room as it turns into a forest in Where the Wild Things Are.
A Sendak Spectacular Family Day is sponsored by PATHMARK.