Catherine Bindman is an academic editor, art critic, and print scholar with a museum background. She has written and edited numerous museum and gallery catalogues and is an editor at the journal Art in Print. (August 2019)
At a moment when Britain appears to have retreated into dotty isolationism, at least with regard to the rest of Europe, the Met’s new British galleries situate almost seven hundred decorative objects from the collection within a relatively broad and inclusive historical framework. If the interpretive materials only skim the surface of this subject, however, their spare, direct style also indicates that the new galleries are primarily designed to introduce British decorative arts to a general audience.
The first work you see as you enter “Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet,” the diorama for The Magic Flute showing Prince Tamino in front of Sarastro’s temple (from which he hopes to rescue Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night), is an exemplary introduction to many of Sendak’s discordant preoccupations, fetishes that the world of musical theater allowed him to explore at a whole new level. For, like many of the other little-known designs here, this particular theatrical contraption shows Sendak fusing Baroque scenographic methods with motifs reflecting his own formidable erudition, his eclectic range of artistic tastes, ranging from antiquity (or riffs on it) to old movies, and, not least, his interest in historic books, toys, tchotchkes, and devices of all kinds.