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Press release

The Contemporary Jewish Museum Reveals the Creative Vision of Jim Henson in The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited

This exploration of the visionary entertainer's work and legacy features puppets from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and The Dark Crystal, plus costurmes and handwritten scripts from Labyrinth

Thursday, January 20, 2022 (San Francisco, CA) — The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) is excited to announce The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited. Organized by Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI), the exhibition will be on view at The CJM March 31–August 14, 2022. The traveling exhibition is a version of MoMI’s The Jim Henson Exhibition, which is permanently on view at its home in New York City.

Imagination Unlimited presents Jim Henson’s groundbreaking work for both film and television, and explores the social impact and indelible mark he made on popular culture. This comprehensive exhibition reveals how Henson and his team of builders, performers, and writers brought to life the enduringly popular worlds of Sesame Street (1969–present), The Muppet Show (1976–1981), Fraggle Rock (1983–1987), The Dark Crystal (1982), Labyrinth (1986), and much more. It also includes material from Henson’s experimental film projects and early work, presenting him as an endlessly creative artist, performer, filmmaker, and technical innovator.

The exhibition begins with a brief look at Henson’s early life through images of Henson as a young man and reproductions of some of his early drawings and sketches, and then follows his steady rise and immense contributions to the art and industry of the moving image. Through materials that offer insight into Henson’s creative process, including handwritten scripts from Henson’s first television series, Sam and Friends (1955–1961), a clip from his Academy Award–nominated experimental film Time Piece (1965), and a selection of beloved puppets, Imagination Unlimited offers visitors unprecedented insight into Henson's creative vision and process.

“We are very excited to present The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited at The CJM,” said Senior Curator Heidi Rabben. “While Henson himself was not Jewish, his life’s work and legacy beautifully reflect the core values of The CJM. Henson sought to create a better world on-screen, which allowed people from all walks of life to see parts of themselves reflected through these beloved characters. Henson’s enduring lessons around diversity, inclusion, representation, and coexistence continue to have a tremendously formative impact for children and families today. We are looking forward to hosting an exhibition that will provide a place for visitors of all ages to experience the joy and magic of Henson’s world, and for adults to revisit these iconic, deeply influential figures from their childhood.”

The exhibition features over 150 artifacts, including more than 25 beloved puppets, among them: Henson’s main alter-ego, Kermit the Frog; Beaker and Scooter from The Muppet Show; Bert, Ernie, Grover, and Count von Count from Sesame Street; Red and Wembley from Fraggle Rock; Ludo and Fiery from Labyrinth; Jen, Kira, and Aughra from The Dark Crystal. The exhibition also traces the evolution of The Muppet Show from a concept Henson first developed in the early 1960s to an internationally-beloved series. This section features iconic puppets that helped define this world-wide brand, including Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, and Scooter, as well as material from the Muppets’ transition to the big screen, with storyboards illustrating how sets were designed to accommodate puppets and performers.

Through character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, costumes, puppets, and behind-the-scenes footage, the show lends insight into the origins and outputs of Henson’s boundless imagination. The exhibition reveals how Henson and his team created an unparalleled body of work, sharing characters and stories that represent diverse backgrounds and abilities, and inspire people of all ages to look beyond differences and cultivate a more compassionate, inclusive world.

In conjunction with Imagination Unlimited, The CJM will present a dynamic series of public programs for audiences of all ages, featuring screenings of a selection of Henson’s most celebrated films and talks with friends, relatives, and colleagues of Henson's. Highlights include:

  • Family ArtBash | Sunday, April 10, 10am–3pm: The CJM invites intergenerational audiences to experience the imaginative worlds developed by Jim Henson in a Museum-wide day of creativity.
  • “The Best Idea Wins”: Dave Goelz and Larry Mirkin on Creativity and Collaboration | Sunday, April 24, 11am (Zoom): Puppeteer Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Zoot, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and producer Larry Mirkin (Fraggle Rock and The Jim Henson Hour) share insights into the creative process in Jim Henson’s workshop.
  • Celebrating Jim Henson and the Art of Puppetry with Cheryl Henson | Thursday, May 12, 5pm: President of the Jim Henson Foundation and Henson’s daughter Cheryl Henson discusses her father’s unique approach to puppetry and storytelling.
  • Sell! Sell! Sell! The Commercials of Jim Henson | Sunday, July 10, 1pm: Jim Henson Company Archivist Karen Falk explores the commercials and industrial films created by Henson in the 1950s and 1960s, including irreverent and award-winning spots for Wilkins Coffee, Purina, La Choy, IBM and more.
  • Labyrinth Film Screening and Talk with Karen Prell | Sunday, July 24, 1pm: Experience one of Jim Henson’s most beloved films, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly, followed by a talk with puppeteer Karen Prell (Fraggle Rock and Labyrinth).

The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited is a traveling exhibition organized by Museum of the Moving Image (Astoria, New York) in cooperation with The Jim Henson Company, The Muppets Studio, and Sesame Workshop. The exhibition features puppets and other objects donated to the Museum by the family of Jim Henson, plus works on loan from The Jim Henson Company archives as well as from private lenders.

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