The Jewish Museum (New York, NY, USA) has unveiled a new exhibit entitled An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak. Award winning children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak is best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are which brought him international acclaim and was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964. He was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York to Polish Jewish immigrants and most his extended family was killed in the Holocaust. When asked by the The Jewish Museum to “rummage through its collection and choose menorahs for a Hanukkah exhibit” Sendak said he selected menorahs, all from the 18th to the 20th centuries, because their simplicity evoked the Holocaust.
Sendak’s work is characterized by a push and pull between beauty and sorrow, light and darkness. His art is triggered by memories and is also their repository. The world he creates is both dangerous and healing, as he tries to deal with the trauma of the Holocaust, in which many members of his family perished.
When going through the museum’s collection, the sheer number and variety of lamps struck a nerve, underscoring Sendak’s deep, lifelong sense of loss at the destruction of the prewar world of his Eastern European Jewish parents. Having movingly evoked that world in his drawings for Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (1966) (image on right) and In Grandpa’s House (1985), he surprised himself by mostly avoiding its rich visual language when choosing lamps for this presentation. “I stayed away from everything elaborate. I kept looking for very plain, square ones, very severe looking,” he explained. “Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.”
The lamps Sendak finds most compelling and poignant are those that “go right to the heart,” whose “beauty is contained.” Yet his sense of humor is never far from the surface: as he made his choices he often free-associated, whimsically recalling old movies and Catskills family vacations. Above all, he is guided by his sensibility as an artist and author. He is drawn to simplicity of line, to a design “subservient to the basic idea of the piece,” and responds to the depth of emotion that emanates from a work itself or from the stories behind it. Concerned lest the past be forgotten, he hopes that young visitors to this exhibition will keep alive the memory of a vanished world.
The exhibition will take place until January 29, 2012 (more details can be found here) and the image gallery can be seen here.