Muppets in Museums? Magnificent!

Published: August 2, 2017
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Photo by Matthew SobermanSince “The Jim Henson Exhibition” opened at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY on July 22nd, I’ve read a lot of reviews and reports on it.  So far, they all seem to have one thing in common.  No, it’s not that they single out the LaChoy Dragon as the best Muppet of all the Muppets on display, although that would be accurate.  Rather, it’s that they’re all overwhelmingly positive.   

The people have spoken, and they really like this exhibition.  There’s a lot of talk about how it’s great for all ages, and how it’ll remind you of your childhood, and how it’ll give you a new appreciation of Jim Henson.  All of that is true.  And when you go to the exhibition, you’ll hear many expressions of delight, and gasps, and people saying, “Ooh, look at THIS!” 

This is a testament to the great work of everyone involved, including the Museum of the Moving Image staff, the Jim Henson Legacy folks, and everyone who contributed money dollars to help make it happen.  To anyone in any of those categories who might be reading this: Thank you!  Great job!  The LaChoy Dragon looks great! 

A permanent Jim Henson museum exhibition!  Who would have thought?  Not that Muppets in museums is a brand-new concept.  As far back as 1979, when The Muppet Show was still on the air, there was “The Art of the Muppets.”  It allowed fans all over the world to see Muppet artifacts up close and personal, but and after ten years of touring, it ended, and if a Muppet fan of that time missed it, said fan probably felt like they had missed their only chance.

Now we have the permanent exhibition in NYC.  And there’s all kinds of Henson and Muppet stuff on display as part of the permanent collection of the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.  The Smithsonian has the Sam & Friends cast, which are frequently on display except when they need to take naps in storage.  As far as I know, the Jim Henson exhibit in Leland, Mississippi still has the critters from Song of the Cloud Forest along with a Kermit.

AND there’s a touring spinoff of the MoMI exhibition that’s currently in Seattle and, with any luck, will make its way to a venue near you.  Oh, and there’s a Big Bird, a Count, and an Oscar currently at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin.  Oh, AND there’s another Kermit, Robin, and Lefty the Salesman currently on display at the Greenwich Historical Society in Connecticut. 

Holy crow, that’s a lot of Muppet exhibitions! 

(By the way, what’s the difference between an exhibit and an exhibition?  Most people use “exhibit” in casual conversation, but I’ve noticed that the more official museum types tend to use “exhibition.”  Maybe it just sounds fancier.  But does that mean all those Kermits on display are exhibitionists?) 

It’s great that Muppets are being recognized as Important and Interesting things to look at in museums.  And all of these venues provide casual fans – you know, the ones who didn’t read and re-read Jim Henson: The Works until the pages fell out – with the opportunity to better understand how Muppets work, and to appreciate the scope and ambition of what Jim and his collaborators did.

They get to see how big Big Bird really is and how ugly a Skeksis really is.  And they get to pose for a selfie with that funny talking pig they know from TV. In The Muppet Movie, Kermit and his friends dreamed of singing and dancing and making millions of people happy.  It turns out they can make people pretty darn happy by sitting under plexiglass too.

The pop culture that influences us plays a significant role in our individual and collective histories, and Jim Henson’s creations have been part of that for a few generations – shaping our senses of humor, teaching us how to count and read, getting “Magic Dance” stuck in our heads. 

And you know what makes all this even better?  We don’t have to just read about Jim’s work on signs at museums – we have access to more of it than ever before.  There are DVD and Blu-ray releases, streaming services, official (and unofficial) YouTube channels… After you see Cookie Monster, Gobo, and Wilkins & Wontkins at the Museum of the Moving Image, you can go home and watch a bunch of Cookie Monster sketches, Fraggle Rock episodes, and Wilkins & Wontkins commercials. 

It’s a good time to be a connoisseur of Jim Henson and the Muppets.  And for anyone who’s not already?  It’s a good time to become one. 

Thanks to Tough Pigs’ own Matthew Soberman for the swell LaChoy Dragon photo! Click here to get up close and personal on the Tough Pigs forum! 

by Ryan Roe – 

You May Also Like…

Written by Ryan Roe

Read More by Ryan Roe

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This