High Museum of Art to Celebrate Maira Kalman's Books for Children

Kalman-_xl_2018_51_17_o2-1.jpgAtlanta — This summer, the High Museum of Art will premiere “The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s Books for Children,” a colorful exhibition exploring the extensive catalog of Kalman’s imaginative stories and illustrations, which have delighted readers of all ages for more than 30 years. 

Perhaps best known for her quirky New Yorker magazine covers and brilliant pictorial essays, Kalman (American, born 1949) has published more than a dozen books for adults and 18 acclaimed children’s books, beginning with the game-changing picture book “Stay Up Late” (1985), which gave visual form to the famous Talking Heads song from the album “Little Creatures.” Since then her works have followed the comic adventures of beloved characters, including a poet dog named Max Stravinsky and Pete the dog, and have addressed important historical people and events with books including “Looking at Lincoln” (2012) and the 9/11inspired “Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey” (2002).

Debuting at the High on June 22 and running through Sept. 15, 2019, “The Pursuit of Everything” will provide an immersive panorama of Kalman’s picture-book career spanning three decades. The more than 100 works on view will include original drawings and paintings from award-winning books including “Smartypants” (2003), about gluttonous canine Pete’s classroom antics, and “Next Stop Grand Central” (2001) as well as newer publications, among them “Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote” (2018), authored by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and the illustrated cookbook “Cake” (2018), written in collaboration with the food writer Barbara Scott-Goodman.

Kalman’s stories weave a curious web of familiarity and imagination with illustrations that celebrate the visual splendor of everyday subjects through a lens that is all her own. Her books ignite curiosity and invite young readers to engage deeply with the world around them. Known for her surreal imagery, Kalman expertly combines sophisticated and hilarious text with beautifully rendered pictures, readily acknowledging the interplay between her writing and painting practice. Her stories have deeply personal roots featuring characters, settings and story lines drawn from the artist’s life and whimsical imagination. Kalman’s images reveal a profound curiosity about shared history and the human experience through themes of adventure, exploration, friendship, dreams and the search for meaning. 

Kalman paints with gouache on paper, favoring flat, highly saturated planes of color and an idiosyncratic use of space that imbue her works with surprises that will delight and excite the young and the young at heart. The exhibition will offer the opportunity for a different and satisfyingly intimate experience of Kalman’s art. 

Kalman says of her wide-ranging work, “The best children’s books are as appealing to adults as they are to children. There have to be different levels of humor, different levels of reference, which allow a dialogue between adults and children. If you live with children, the kinds of conversations you have during the day range from the surreal to the mundane to the insane to the pedantic. And that language can be duplicated in writing because the world is all of those things.”

“The Pursuit of Everything” marks the High’s fourth collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which organized the show and will present it in Amherst, Mass., from October 13, 2019, through January 19, 2020.

“We are thrilled to partner again with the High to bring children’s picture book art to Atlanta,” said Ellen Keiter, chief curator at The Carle. “Kalman is an astute chronicler of our time as well as someone who makes history accessible. Museum visitors will revel in her lively imagery and witty observations, which vacillate between the comic and the profound.”  

“Both captivating and moving, Kalman’s work challenges all of us to rediscover the childlike curiosity that lives deep down inside,” said Virginia Shearer, the High’s Eleanor McDonald Storza director of education. “We are delighted to welcome families back to the High for another exhibition that highlights the work of an acclaimed author and illustrator, and we’re honored to continue our multiyear collaboration with our colleagues at The Eric Carle Museum, who are such wonderful partners.”

In addition to original works from her books, also on view will be Kalman’s illustrated correspondence with her two-year-old granddaughter Olive, fascinating personal notebooks, a colossal reproduction from New York’s Grand Central Terminal, manuscripts, dummy books and other ephemera, including Kalman’s collection of crazy-named candy bars arranged as haikus. The galleries will also feature sketches and images of Kalman’s pictorial essays and covers for The New Yorker.  

To bring the audience closer to her artistic process, Kalman repainted the opening scene from her Mikado-themed book “Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman” (1989) expressly for the exhibition, and she will also create an installation of photographs and objects that inspire her, similar to the one in her studio.

“It is such a wonderful thing to meet a gifted illustrator or a talented writer, and Maira happens to  be both,” said Jane Bayard Curley, the exhibition curator. “She is just like her work: funny, smart, and an undisputed champion for the universal appeal of the picture book. Her highly personal and somewhat eccentric worldview appeals to anyone who wants to be verbally and visually amused and challenged.” 

Key works featured in the exhibition will include:

?? Four hilariously surreal paintings from Kalman’s first picture book, “Stay Up Late,” a collaboration with David Byrne pairing Kalman’s paintings with the lyrics to the popular Talking Heads song 

?? An early self-portrait of the artist at age 7 sitting in a tree in Henry Hudson Park, from “Chicken Soup, Boots”

?? A series of lovingly rendered portraits illustrating the adventures of Kalman’s beloved dog Pete

?? Preliminary sketches and finished paintings from Kalman’s popular book series featuring her alter ego, Max the poet dog

?? Delicate yet powerfully moving portraits of Sojourner Truth and Inez Milholland from “Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote,” Kalman’s recent collaboration with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Alliance Theatre at The Woodruff Arts Center, of which the High is also an arts partner, will present the world premiere play “Max Makes a Million,” from June 20 to July 21, 2019. Poetry, dance, jazz, visual art and dreams coalesce in this theatrical adaptation combining Kalman’s most notable books, adapted and directed by Liz Diamond.

This collaboration is the fourth in a series presented by the High and the Alliance Theatre in partnership with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The Kalman project follows the successful exhibition and theatre productions based on the work of children’s book authors and artists Ashley Bryan (2017), Eric Carle (2016) and Mo Willems (2015). The presentations are made possible through a grant to The Woodruff Arts Center from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation to expand programming and increase access for family audiences.

“The Pursuit of Everything” will be presented on the lobby and second levels of the High’s Anne Cox Chambers Wing. 

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