The Jim Henson Exhibition
I frequently say that I don't like movies that involve real live humans interacting with cartoons or puppets. There's something about the suspension of reality that is demanded from the audience and the implied ignorance of the actor that is just off-putting to me (I know this is a crazy thing to think/care about).
So when I told David that I wanted to go see the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image, he was understandably surprised. But just because I don't love humans interacting with puppets, doesn't mean I don't like the puppets themselves or appreciate the artistry and creativity that goes into making and animating them (I do very much!).
The Museum of the Moving Image is located in Astoria, Queens. They have a modest permanent collection of movie memorabilia—it's worth the price of admission to me just to see Meryl's wig from Sophie's Choice and Robin William's Mrs. Doubtfire face—but their special exhibitions are always top-notch. I went and saw their excellent Mad Men exhibit before I'd even seen a single episode of the show, so I knew that Jim Henson's extraordinary life would be in good hands.
Jim Henson is of course famous for his Muppets, but he packed so much more into his tragically short life (he died after a short illness in 1990, when he was just 53). He began experimenting with puppetry while he was still in high school, and in 1969 he started work on Sesame Street. I was somehow unaware that Henson had anything to do with Sesame Street, but in hindsight I don't know how I didn't know that.
The exhibition features nearly 300 objects and 47 puppets, donated by Henson's family—including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Rowlf, The Swedish Chef, my spirit animals Statler and Waldorf, Emmett Otter and others—and it's easy to see how they are all related and evolved through the years.
At the end of the exhibition is a theater playing an episode of The Muppet Show and a short documentary about Henson's work. It's mesmerizing to see the puppets in person and then brought to life on the screen, but what I loved most was the behind-the-scenes footage—what's happening below the camera is often more interesting than the finished product.
I find that seeing things in person—paintings, set pieces, actors—versus seeing them on screen or in a photograph can be a jarring experience. Without the gloss of the big (or the small) screen, the Muppets look a little dingy, a little shabby and very much like puppets. It made me appreciate the work of puppeteers more than I ever thought to, especially Henson and his alter ego, Kermit. In a display case, he's just a simple, frog-like patchwork of felt and wires—but imbued with Henson's spirit (and hand and voice), he became Kermit The Frog (and blessed the world with a gif for every scenario).
The Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35 Avenue
Astoria, NY 11106
$15 adults (18+)
Admission is free every Friday, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
The Jim Henson Exhibition is ongoing