Maurice Sendak exhibit ‘Wild Things Are Happening’ coming to Skirball

The work and career of Maurice Sendak, the renowned children’s literature author, will take the spotlight in the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of his work, opening next week in Los Angeles.

Sendak created the acclaimed children’s books “Where the Wild Things Are” (1963),In the Night Kitchen” (1970), and “Outside Over There” (1980).

The exhibit also will be the first major Sendak retrospective since his death in 2012 at the age of 80.

Sendak came out of the closet in a September 2008 New York Times article, saying he was gay and had lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene David Glynn, for 50 years before his death in May 2007.

Sendak never told his parents about his sexuality.

“All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” Sendak said. “They never, never, never knew.”

Sendak said he regretted the decision to not tell them. He kept quiet about being gay because he thought the idea of a gay man writing children’s books might have killed his career.

Maurice Sendak Exhibit Skirball Cultural Center

The work and career of Maurice Sendak, the renowned children’s literature author, will take the spotlight in the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of his work, opening next week at the Skirball Cultural Center.
Maurice Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are,” 1963, tempera on paper, 9 ¾ x 22”, ©The Maurice Sendak Foundation Photo: The Maurice Sendak Foundation

“Wild Things Are Happening: The Art of Maurice Sendak” features  more than 150 sketches, storyboards, and paintings by Sendak, including his designs for opera, theater, film, and television productions. The pieces are on loan from the collection of The Maurice Sendak Foundation.

Sendak’s impact on the world of the performing arts is showcased through his collaborations and friendships with directors, composers, playwrights, and visual artists, such as Carroll Ballard, Frank Corsaro, Spike Jonze, Tony Kushner, and Twyla Tharp. 

The West Coast debut of “Wild Things Are Happening” will open April 18 and close Sept. 1 at the Skirball Cultural Center. The show is organized by The Columbus Museum of Art, where it premiered in October 2022.

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The Skirball first celebrated Sendak’s work 20 years ago.

“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.,” Jessie Kornberg, Skirball Cultural Center president and CEO, said in a press release about the exhibit.

“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,” Kornberg said.

Alongside landmark pictures for Sendak’s own books will be artwork he created for “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.

 “Wild Things Are Happening” 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.”

This exhibit also will add depth to 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.

“Wild Things Are Happening” also will include portraits he made of loved ones, archival photographs of family members, and toys he designed as a young adult.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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