Morgan Library exhibits Maurice Sendak opera and ballet set designs

NEW YORK – A new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum explores another side of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Titled Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet, the special summer exhibition runs through October 6, 2019.

Best known for his 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak was an avid music and opera lover. Beginning in the late 1970s, he embarked on a second career as a designer for opera and ballet. Drawing the Curtain brings together nearly 150 drawings from more than 900 by Sendak that are held in the Morgan’s collection, including preliminary sketches, storyboards, finished watercolors, and painted dioramas. Also included are earlier works by Sendak on loan from The Maurice Sendak Foundation, and a number of props and costumes. This is the first museum exhibition dedicated to Sendak’s set and costume designs, offering new insights into the artist’s inspirations and creative process. Like his children’s book illustrations, Sendak’s designs for the stage embody his singular hand, his fantastical mode of storytelling, and his keen—sometimes bawdy—sense of humor

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Ship (Nutcracker), 1982-4, gouache and graphite pencil on paper. © The Maurice Sendak Foundation. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.107:289. Photography by Janny Chiu.

Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet presents a wide selection of works from five of his most important productions: Mozart’s Magic Flute, Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen, Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and an opera based on Where the Wild Things Are. These inventive designs demonstrate his exceptional skill as a visual storyteller. A selection of 18th and 19th-century works from the Morgan’s collection by artists who influenced Sendak will be displayed alongside his designs.

Throughout his career, Sendak drew inspiration from his visits to the Morgan, particularly his encounters with the compositions of Mozart, and the drawings of William Blake and Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo. The Morgan’s diverse holdings of music manuscripts, autograph letters, printed books, and Old Master drawings mirrored Sendak’s own wide-ranging passion for music, art, and literature. This will be the fourth and most comprehensive exhibition of Sendak’s work at the Morgan. The first took place in1981, with drawings for Sendak’s deeply personal picture book Outside Over There and from his recent work on The Magic Flute. Both had been inspired by a visit Sendak made to the Morgan in 1977 to view drawings by Blake.

This was followed by exhibitions of his illustrations for the Grimm tale Dear Mili in 1986 and drawings for the book Where the Wild Things Are in 2009, on the occasion of the release of a major motion picture adaptation. Sendak made use of the Morgan’s collections on at least two other occasions, including in 1987, when he leafed through Mozart manuscripts during the filming of the PBS documentary American Masters.

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Diorama of Moishe scrim and flower proscenium (Where the Wild Things Are), 1979-1983, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite pencil on laminated paperboard. © The Maurice Sendak Foundation. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.103:69, 70, 71. Photography by Graham Haber, 2018.

“Few people know that Maurice Sendak had a long and productive relationship with the Morgan. It is exciting to focus on his work as a theater designer, which is an often overlooked but important aspect of his career as an artist,” said Director of the museum, Colin B. Bailey. “We are deeply grateful to The Maurice Sendak Foundation for their support in the planning of this exhibition and for lending several key works, including examples of Sendak’s charming Fantasy Sketches.” “This exhibition will be a wonderful surprise to those who are familiar with Sendak primarily through his beloved books,” said Rachel Federman, Assistant Curator in the Modern and Contemporary Drawings Department and the curator of the exhibition. “His designs for opera and ballet have all the beauty, humor, and complexity of his picture books and illustrations, but they also put on full display his passion for art, art history, and music.”

Click for additional information on The Morgan’s website.

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