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Skirball Presents The Art of Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are. Copyright © 1963, renewed 1991, by Maurice Sendak.

The Skirball Cultural Center announces the West Coast debut of Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak, celebrating the work of Jewish American artist Maurice Sendak, creator of the acclaimed children’s books Where the Wild Things Are (1963), In the Night Kitchen (1970), and Outside Over There (1980). Organized by The Columbus Museum of Art, where it premiered in October 2022, this is the first major Sendak retrospective since his death in 2012, and the largest and most complete exhibition of his work to date. Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak opens to the public on April 18, 2024, and will be on view at the Skirball Cultural Center through September 1, 2024.

“Twenty years ago, the Skirball had the chance to celebrate the vision of Maurice Sendak. In that show, we got to visit with Max in his bedroom, slide into a giant bowl of chicken soup with rice, and see reproductions of Sendak’s brilliant work. This second visit with Sendak isn’t just a chance for a whole new generation to become familiar with some of the most indelible and beautiful characters in all of childhood. It’s a chance to appreciate the astonishing breadth and depth of Sendak’s artistry—from children’s books to toys to opera sets—to learn about his life from childhood to adulthood, and to gain insight into the impact of his Jewish heritage,” says Skirball Cultural Center President and CEO Jessie Kornberg.

Wild Things Are Happening is composed of more than 150 sketches, storyboards, and paintings by Sendak on loan from the collection of The Maurice Sendak Foundation. Presented alongside landmark pictures for Sendak’s own books will be examples of artwork he created for such celebrated publications as The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss, the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, and Zlateh the Goat by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Designs for many of Sendak’s opera, theater, film, and television productions are also featured. His impact on the broader world of the performing arts is illuminated through his collaboration and friendship with directors, composers, playwrights, and visual artists, such as Carroll Ballard, Frank Corsaro, Spike Jonze, Tony Kushner, and Twyla Tharp.

The exhibition will also highlight Sendak’s love of Mozart and the way the composer’s life and work influenced not only Sendak’s designs for Mozart’s operas, such as The Magic Flute, but also key books including Outside Over There and Dear Mili. As Sendak stated, “I love opera beyond anything, and Mozart beyond anything.”

This groundbreaking exhibition also adds new depth to audiences’ understanding of Sendak’s life – as a child of Jewish immigrants, a lover of Romantic music and art, a skilled collaborator with other cultural innovators – and how he drew inspiration from writers ranging from William Shakespeare to Herman Melville. From portraits that he made of loved ones, to archival photographs of family members, to toys he designed as a young adult, the exhibition brings Sendak and his work to life in three dimensions.

“The brilliant Maurice Sendak created work that, while informed by his own personal history, reaches across generations and communities. This landmark exhibition puts Sendak forward as the expansive, creative force that he was, with an inimitable power to move and delight people. It fits beautifully with the Skirball’s goal of presenting exhibitions that both humanize and celebrate the vastly different people who have enriched American culture,” commented Sheri Bernstein, Skirball Cultural Center Museum Director.

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