While he has written or illustrated more than 90 books, Mr. Sendak also has collaborated with numerous opera companies and even a modern dance company, continually pushing the boundaries of his art. A feature film based on "Wild Things" is slated for next year. Now, two museum shows, one on each coast, place Sendak securely at the forefront of a broader national discussion about the lines between functional art and fine art.
"It's a matter of cultural prejudice that we view illustration as being a lesser art," says Mr. Marcus. Adds Ann Temkin, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Philadelphia Art Museum, "It's a far more open environment today for thinking about artists in disciplines that once might have been quarantined or seen in limited fashion, and that would certainly include book illustrators."
The traveling exhibit, "Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak in his own Words and Pictures," now in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, examines his work in the context of his family being Holocaust survivors.
Next month, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art opens its doors in Amherst, Mass., with a show honoring Sendak's career as a fine-art illustrator.
"Children's books were always very pretty," says Barbara Gilbert, curator of fine arts for the Skirball. "But Sendak wanted them to be honest." Think of the dark power of Chris Van Allsburg's "Jumanji" to understand Sendak's legacy to younger writer/illustrators.
Filtering memories through art
As the third and youngest child of an immigrant Jewish family living in New York, Sendak says honesty meant portraying the childhood he knew: one full of great loss, fear, and boredom. "Children didn't have summer camps in the Brooklyn he knew," Ms. Gilbert says, "so they were left to their own resources."