September 29, 2013

Art review: Sendak inspires love and controversy


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The wide-ranging Sendak show at the Portland Public Library features drawings, paintings, sketches, prints, etchings and an animated short film.

Images courtesy of Portland Public Library

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"MAURICE SENDAK: 50 YEARS, WORKS, REASONS," sponsored and supported by the Maine College of Art, AFA NYC and Bangor Savings Bank

WHERE: Lewis Gallery, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland

WHEN: Through Oct. 25

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday; until 6 p.m. Friday

INFO: 871-1700;

But moving past the ethical stain on AFA's commercial veneer, Sendak's pencil drawings and watercolors are everything you could want them to be.

"Wild Things" follows a protagonist – Max – with a perpetrator streak (his chasing the dog down the stairs with a fork doesn't go over well with Max's mom) through psychologically internal struggles. It touches the same literary realm as Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and E.T.A Hoffmann (my sons' first encounter with Sendak comprised his designs for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of Hoffmann's "The Nutcracker"). The cover of "Wild Things" – with its sleeping monster – makes a compelling case for its being a dream novel (traumnovelle).

The big difference, of course, is that Sendak is writing after Freud and Surrealism.

Staying with "Wild Things" as a visual art journey, we see Max's drawing of a Wild Thing pinned to the wall while he chases his dog down the stairs. This helps us see the Wild Things not just as the products of Max's imagination but as visual art – an idea backed by the fact that the Wild Things are heavily crosshatched in an engraving style (an art/illustration convention), but Max is not.

Underlying "Wild Things" is a logic tying it to Pirandello's 1921 seminal absurdist play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author." But from a Jungian or Freudian perspective, there is nothing absurd about the latent energies or developmental roles hard-wired in children: They are endemic and – as ill-fitting as the word seems – normal. And this is why so many children found and related to "Wild Things" even when the book was banned; Sendak didn't give them rosy-cheeked apples and fresh spinach cheering upward bound choo-choos, he showed children their impulses and bad dreams were part of growing up and could even be harnessed to produce great things.

Sendak was a brilliant author, but he will always be remembered as one of America's greatest and most beloved artists.

When Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) was asked about whom he most admired, he responded: "Sendak, Sendak, Sendak."

And who am I to argue with Dr. Seuss?

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:


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