Maurice Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are,” 1963, tempera on paper, 9 ¾ x 22”, © The Maurice Sendak Foundation

‘Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak’ in Columbus

The Columbus Museum of Art and The Maurice Sendak Foundation partner for a retrospective of works by the author and artist who gave us Where the Wild Things Are.

Special Announcement: "Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak" will be extended through Sunday, March 19. 

A group of fanged monsters frolic through the woods alongside a little boy wearing a crown. It is an image that is familiar to, well, pretty much everyone. There’s no denying that the wildly popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, by author and artist Maurice Sendak, is a pop-culture icon.

“Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak,” at the Columbus Museum of Art through March 5, is the first retrospective of the artist’s work since his death in 2012. The exhibition includes 150 sketches, storyboards and paintings, ranging from children’s books to design concepts for theater productions.

“It bothered him that people would only know Wild Things when he had such an extraordinary range,” says Jonathan Weinberg, the exhibition’s guest curator. “I want people to realize that he’s a great artist.”

Weinberg would know. The artist and art historian serves as curator of The Maurice Sendak Foundation, which created the touring exhibition with the Columbus Museum of Art. Weinberg had known Sendak since childhood, and he brings a uniquely intimate perspective to the exhibition.

The result is works like preliminary drawings of his better-known children’s books including In the Night Kitchen and the “Nutshell Library” series, but also pieces that were particularly important to Sendak, like a drawing of his dog Jennie that appeared in the book Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life. The artist wrote the book while Jennie was at the end of her life, and the original drawing was the only piece of Sendak’s art that hung in his own home.

The exhibition also includes concept art and posters Sendak created for theater productions and art for books by other authors, like the “Little Bear” series by Else Holmelund Minarik. There’s also a selection of Sendak’s personal art collection, including pieces by William Blake and Beatrix Potter.

“Maurice loved the history of art, and what made his art for children so unusual was the breadth of its associations with great art of the past,” says Weinberg. “Most kids artists don’t do that.”

Naturally, the show includes a large section devoted to Where the Wild Things Are, including original art for the book and memorabilia. Despite Sendak’s penchant for the whimsical, his art has universal appeal, transporting viewers of all ages into a world of imagination.

“Often he is taking a story that is supposed to be geared for children and enriching it and thinking about it in such a way that it becomes a great work of art,” says Weinberg. “It really is about more than children.”

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