Jolene Goes to the Skirball Cultural Center
In the current Instagram model and social media FOMO climate, popular Los Angeles spots like LACMA or The Broad have been dominating cyberspace, with their insta-worthy photo ops and trending exhibits. I myself have fallen prey to this facade created by Instagram, giving into the allure of Kusama's Infinity Rooms but not seeking out the other museum gems so readily available in Los Angeles.
Thankfully, Instagram did me a favor - I saw one of my friends post some photos from the Skirball Cultural Center, and more specifically, the Jim Henson Exhibit that was currently on. While I didn't watch a lot of tv growing up, the Muppets were a big part of my childhood, so this particular exhibit sounded right up my alley. On top of that, I'd heard about the Skirball many times before, so I thought it was a perfect time to actually make the visit.
Unfortunately for me, I found out about this exhibit quite late; September 1 was just around the corner, and having only weekends open, the approaching Saturday was my only option (as I am flying to my next big trip on September 1). Things have been so wild for me recently (plus the friend I wanted to go with was unavailable), so I took a socially awkward leap and decided to go alone. I may or may not have let myself sleep a little longer that Saturday morning, but I was still able to make it to the Skirball around 11AM, after a fairly lengthy drive from Long Beach. It was a beautifully clear and sunny day, and I found myself exceptionally content with my decision to go alone.
I parked at the Skirball, free of charge. The parking structure is not difficult to find, and houses more than enough parking spots. Walking to the museum entrance from there wasn't as intuitive, but by a stroke of luck I ended up in the right place. My peaceful walk through the concrete corridors and leafy trees was abruptly interrupted as I encountered a very large crowd of people.
It seems that the rest of Los Angeles had a similar idea to me - get to the Jim Henson exhibit before it closes. The admissions line was longer than any I'd ever encountered, filled with Jim Henson fans sporting character shirts and varying playful outfits. The whole courtyard was filled with a line snaking in and around the area, eventually leading back into the building and to the admissions counter.
I waited at least 30 minutes before purchasing my admission, then I was off to explore!
Honestly, I should have grabbed a map. I wandered in the general direction of most of the museum's content, stumbling upon the Leonard Bernstein Exhibit first. I decided to take a quick look around and learn a little bit about the classical music legend.
I have to admit, I didn't spend as much time in that exhibit as I should have. My main goal was to see the Jim Henson exhibit, so I made my way there (without a map). I walked down the main corridor onto a covered, outdoor area offering clear views of the surrounding LA areas. A few people were reclining in seats, and I imagine it's a wonderful spot to chat with friends or have a snack.
Continuing on, I stumbled upon yet another line (Insert Comic Con flashbacks here). I asked a staff member what the line was for, and he informed me it was for the Jim Henson exhibit.
I got in line, waited maybe around 40 minutes, and I was finally in.
Immediately upon entering the gallery space, I was greeted by one of my absolute favorites, Kermit the Frog. I could already feel the exhibit tugging at my secretly nostalgic heartstrings, remembering my childhood and how much I enjoyed the Muppets. The exhibit was simple - it documented Jim Henson's creative journey and his rise to commercial fame, along with the characters and universe he created.
Between the bright yellow walls, iconic Muppets and large homage to The Muppet Show, the sense of whimsy was overwhelming, but in the best way. Every corner you turned, exhibit-goers were grinning from ear to ear, squealing with delight as they recounted the familiar puppets from their childhood.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. From drawings to crudely-sewn puppets all the way to David Bowie's jewel-encrusted costume from Labyrinth, I loved seeing the evolution and sheer magic always present in Jim Henson's works. He treated whimsy with respect and did not discount childlike wonderment as something immature or basic.
To close out my day, I did take some time in the traditionally Jewish parts of the Skirball, and boy did I learn a ton. I was a little wiped out by then, so I didn't spend as much time as is needed (or as much time as I'd wanted) in those parts. If you are interested in or curious about Jewish culture and history, the Skirball offers a thorough snapshot of the history of the Jews. In addition to being informative, the exhibits highlight the every day, common items related to Jewish customs but also the beautiful, ornate items used on special occasions. My favorite part was the Jewish holidays section. I spent quite a bit of time admiring the Hanukah items.
Lastly, I visited Noah's Ark, an interactive installation full of reclaimed materials, and geared towards active children. It inspired me artistically, but I think I might have enjoyed it if I were at least 20 years younger. I could not visit until my designated time slot, so please take that into consideration if you are wanting to visit Noah's Ark.
By the time I finished, I meandered outside to listen to the brass band featured that day, who played excerpts from Bernstein's West Side Story. The amphitheater was less than half full, a peaceful contrast against the steadily growing crowds elsewhere. The sun greeted us, a breeze blew, and I let myself be drawn into the music.
I knew my day was near over, so I made my way to the museum shop. I passed that a sign read, "Noah's Ark Sold Out," and I was reminded of the crowds right before I encountered them one last time. I indulged in two items from the shop and spoke to the cashier about the crowds. Apparently they were unprecedented and solely due to the Jim Henson exhibit closing soon. The crowds were even more intense than when I'd arrived, and the cashier was concerned about the regular hard close at 5PM. It was past 3PM and visitors were still trickling in.
I didn't stay much longer, and decided to head home from my miniature solo adventure. I would gladly go back to the Skirball Cultural Center and spend more time viewing the Jewish artifacts and getting an even better grasp of their culture. It's been over 5 years since I had the privilege of visiting Israel, and this museum took me back to so many wonderful things I saw and learned there. I would recommend the Skirball to anyone who loves history, loves learning, and is looking for something outside of the Insta-worthy realm.
Have you ever been to the Skirball?
Until next time,