Running June 1-September 2, 2018 at The Skirball Cultural Center, The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited pays tribute to Jim Henson (1936-1990), a major creative force in the latter half of the 20th Century. With the help of his collaborators, Henson's Muppets (a combination of marionette and puppet) remain one the most popular groups of imaginary characters, rivaling the cartoon characters from Looney Tunes and Walt Disney and Charles Schulz's Peanuts. Organized by the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI), New York, this traveling exhibition is a version of MoMI’s ongoing The Jim Henson Exhibition. It is divided into sections: “Early Works”, “Experiments,” “Sesame Street,” “The Muppets,” and “Immersive Worlds.”
In “Early Works,” Henson's influences are on display. A small Admiral Television Receiver plays short clips of Ernie Kovacs and puppeteer Burr Tillstrom’s Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Next to a book of Walt Kelly's Pogo is a comic strip featuring “Pierre the French Rat,” from Henson's high school newspaper, Wildcat Scratches. Pierre was the basis for his first puppet in 1954.
In 1955, Henson and Jane Nebel, his University of Maryland classmate and future wife, created a five-minute puppet show for WRC-TV called Sam and Friends, which ran until 1961. Henson branched out to create commercials, quite funny ones starring Wilkins and Wontkins that may be viewed. Some are so outrageous it's a surprise the client allowed them to air. Henson got national attention performing a Muppet routine on Steve Allen's Tonight Show. The Muppets began to make many TV appearances, including Rowlf, who went from Purina Dog Chow commercials to sidekick on The Jimmy Dean Show.
As it was for many people, the 1960s was a time for “Experiments.” Henson's creativity was clearly not limited to Muppets and he created short films and TV programs, a documentary, and Cyclia, a multi-media nightclub that never came to fruition. Lucky for the world that the experiments never became great successes as it left him to take part in the debut of an educational children's television show that would lead to international success.
“Sesame Street,” which continues to air new episodes, saw many iconic characters spring forth from the imagination and talents of Henson and his associates. Lightning struck again for “The Muppets” a few years later with The Muppet Show, a variety show that kids could enjoy but was more accessible for adults. Characters from both shows appear in clear cases. A video display runs all 120 episodes simultaneously.
“Immersive Worlds” looks at different projects the Jim Henson Company took on in the 1980s, such as the TV show Fraggle Rock, and the movies The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. There are also projects the company has created since Henson's passing, which show how his legacy lives on.
The walls are filled with Henson quotes and there is text that adds to his story and the items showcased. There are also mentions of those who worked with him like Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl. Ephemera from throughout the years augment the exhibit, such as scripts and drawings and other miscellaneous items.
In addition to iPads that contain Henson's sketches, the exhibit has three interactive portions. There is an area where one can record video of themselves working a Muppet to a song, an area where one can design a blue Anything Muppet, and a stage where people can work Muppets.
For fans of Jim Henson, this exhibition is a marvelous remembrance of the man and his work. Highly recommended for kids and kids at heart. Photos from the exhibition can be seen at Sentry Steve Geise's Instagram page.
The Skirball Cultural Center is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049. Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday 12:00-5:00 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; closed Mondays and holidays. Admission to exhibitions beginning March 1, 2016: $12 General; $9 Seniors, Full-Time Students, and Children over 12; $7 Children 2-12. Exhibitions are always FREE to Skirball Members and Children under 2. Exhibitions are FREE to all visitors on Thursdays. Over the summer, the Skirball's annual Outdoor Film Screenings will feature The Muppet Movie (Friday, June 29, 8:30 p.m.) and Labyrinth (Friday, July 13, 8:30 p.m.). Tickets for these exhibition-related programs are available for purchase on. For general information, the public may call (310) 440-4500 or visit skirball.org.