For One Week, Jack Kirby’s Art Was Exhibited In The Neighborhood Where He Grew Up
New York City feels like there's a museum on every block. I've lived here my whole life, and I like to think I've spent a good amount of that time as a semi-regular visitor of some of the historical sites and cultural institutions my hometown has to offer, yet I am not remotely close to having seen even a quarter of the museums this city has to offer. Many of them you know -- some are iconic, seemingly enormous, and world renowned, while others are smaller and occasionally temporary, but nonetheless significant. Basically, when it comes to taking in the culture in the largest city in the history of civilization, you do the best you can.
But sometimes you make seeing something a priority. And Prototype Alpha -- the "Pop-Up" museum created by the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center that was open for seven days only this past week -- was one of those times. Located on Manhattan's Lower East Side, just a few blocks from where the iconic artist was raised, the museum was the first physical presence for the organization, and served as a wonderful testament to a man who is inarguably one of the most important artists New York City produced in the 20th century.
That the museum was located on Manhattan's Lower East Side, in Kirby's childhood neighborhood, is obviously not a coincidence. Nor, I suspect, is the fact that its week long opening coincided with the release of Thor: The Dark World. Starring one of Kirby's most endearingly popular creations, it's a film that made $86 million domestically this weekend, and none of that will go to the late artist's heirs. This is an issue that has been debated at length, and will continue to be discussed. I won't go into it any further here, but it needed to be acknowledged.
As to the exhibit itself, the experience was great. It was located on a corner and enclosed in a space surrounded by large windows, showing off the art inside. It was a small space, but that was to be expected. It was the first physical space for the Jack Kirby Museum, and that it was open even for just a week was made possible through a successful Kickstarter campaign launched by Made in the Lower East Side, an organization dedicated to turning unused storefronts into "short-term multi-use spaces for community hubs." Moreover, space is at a premium in New York, especially if your goal is a specific neighborhood. The organization's next goal is to have a larger space for a longer amount of time, possibly up to three months.
The museum was set up in the front section of an office space, in an area I'd say was 30' x 15' at most. Despite the small space, attendees were not deterred. I was told that nearly 400 people passed through on Sunday, the last day of the event, and one of the most encouraging things I witnessed was all the foot traffic from people who just happened to be passing by. Certainly the museum was a destination for most who visited, but in the time I was there I was encouraged by the number of people who came in off the street, often with their children. I saw one kid point to a cover featuring Captain America and The Falcon, grab his mother's sleeve (without ever taking his eye off the art) to get her attention and say "mom, that's so cool," all the time maintaining a look on his face that said for all the world that this was the the single coolest thing he'd ever seen. The kid was right, of course -- it was amazing. But I confess I briefly resented this child for reminding me that I am a human being with feelings. I saw a bit of myself in him, and couldn't help but get a little emotional, while also feeling a little jealous that I didn't get to see original Jack Kirby art when I was his age.
And even in that small of a space, there was plenty of it to see. The exhibit was packed from wall to wall with original art, featuring the Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, the Forever People, and more. That said, nearly all of the pages were pinups. In a perfect world, I'd have liked to see more art that highlighted Kirby's incredible storytelling skills. But, again, this was put together in a short amount of time, and they had very little space. All things considered, the Kirby Museum's curators did a wonderful job. Also, pinup art is far more inviting from a distance. Having art like that in a space enclosed all around by large windows likely aided in bringing in street traffic, introducing hundreds of Lower East Side residents to the staggering genius of Jack Kirby, king of comics, the New York kid who grew up just around the corner.