Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You're a Good Exhibit, Charlie Brown

Museum Exhibition Review

Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit
Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
Thru February 18

Call me a child—or properly brainwashed when I was one—but like the great Disney, Warner Bros. and Muppets characters, Charlie Brown and his Peanuts pals never fail to bring a smile to my face (or at least my mind).

So although Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit, now at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, doesn’t offer much in the way of scientific or industrial insight, I couldn’t help but enjoy it at (roundheaded) face value. Which isn’t to say it didn’t provide some genuine intelligence about Charles Schulz’ working methods and the 17,000+ Peanuts comic strips he personally created over 50 years.

Click image to enlarge
Organized by the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, where the cartoonist lived and worked for the last 31 years of his life, the exhibit includes a replica of his studio and a couple of videos in which he speaks to his technique and inspiration. And referencing a TV interview in which, when asked what he wished he were asked about more often, Schulz replied, “my drawing,” the exhibit includes a fascinating wall of Peanuts strips accompanied by placards expounding on his drawing technique.

While this was likely the most compelling insight the exhibit provided—though I did enjoy learning that the term “security blanket” originated with Linus—besides the fun it provides for kids, the exhibition is well-organized and informational for patrons of any age. I would have liked a bit more in the way of educational information about Schulz, his worldview and how he worked, but between numerous strips on display and informative wall text/placards, I felt the exhibit was well-curated in terms of what it offered adults.

Just last week in a post decrying the relative lack of true greatness in our midst—while citing a couple notable exceptions—I mentioned Schulz as a past example of such.

Yet in not reading Peanuts with any regularity for years—though it still runs worldwide 13 years after Schulz' death brought new strips to an end; you can see daily Classic Peanuts strips here—I was happily reminded just how smart and universal Schulz' observations on life (through Charlie, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, etc.) were.

I think I read every panel of every strip displayed, and while I imagine only “great ones” were selected for the exhibition, virtually all of them brought not only a smile to my face, but a sense of recognition to my brain. Not because I recalled seeing any of these strips previously, but because the thoughts and feelings Schulz was expressing—whether in 1960 or 1999—felt quite contemporary.

So even had exhibit been comprised solely of Peanuts comic strips—rather than also including large figures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy (+ Woodstock) upon his doghouse, a purposefully paltry Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and a playable floor piano—it still would have been well worth the $5 it cost to see on one of the museum's free general admission days for Illinois residents. But much as the strips were all accompanied by brief but substantive information, two walls of Peanuts character bios (like the Pigpen one above) provided solid insight on the origins and personalities of each.

Mind you, if I hadn’t been able to take advantage of having Martin Luther King Day off work, the regular $20 MSI general admission + special exhibit cost, plus $20 per car for parking, might have made me wonder how worthwhile the exhibit was beyond simply reading an anthology of Peanuts cartoons.

For it would cost a family of four plus perhaps one grandparent over $100 before food is factored in. And though the museum has good permanent exhibits, the two best—the coal mine and the  U-505 submarine—also require additional admission.

So while I’m all for supporting Chicago's best non-art museum, you may want to see if you can get to the Museum of Science and Industry on one of its free days, so as to see Charlie Brown for just peanuts.

No comments: