The classic children’s book Goodnight Moon is breaking free of its pages with a new, real-life exhibit at New York City studio Fort Makers.
Called Goodnight House, the group exhibition curated by Fort Makers cofounders Noah Spencer and Nana Spears, is an immersive and colorful installation that’s chock-full of furniture and home products inspired by the book. And in a world that’s been heavy on dire news and drab routines, this experience provides some much-needed connection with your inner child.
Goodnight Moon was written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. Published in 1947, the bedtime story has since sold 48 million copies and is on the New York Public Library’s list of most checked-out books. (It gets an honorable mention, partly because the library didn’t carry it until 1972.)
In planning the exhibit, Spencer and Spears sent copies of Goodnight Moon to more than a dozen artists, who responded with new takes on iconic pieces from the book. There are hand-painted green-and-yellow curtains by Naomi S. Clark; a cerulean-blue mantle clock and urns by Keith Simpson; a rocking chair, stools, and bookcase in bright primary colors by Chiaozza; and a poppy-red bed by Liz Collins. (Mice, kittens, and bowl of mush not included.)
Spencer calls out Marcel Alcalá’s paintings and Nick DeMarco’s frames as particular favorites. One painting in a bright-yellow scalloped frame depicts a yellow cow soaring across farmland and over a moon. “I think this is a good example of how working together and allowing other influences ends up being more than the sum of the parts,” Spencer says, noting “how current the works feel without being trendy.”
The home decor is staged to look just like in the book, with bright-green walls and painted windows that reveal a starry-night backdrop. To me, the chunky shapes and bright colors hint at the playful, folksy aesthetic of midcentury modern California and New Mexico designers like Alexander Girard. There’s almost a Claymation effect to some of the pieces. They’re familiar, but just kooky enough to feel like fiction.
So why was the book such fertile ground for contemporary reinvention? Because it provides a combination of comforting familiarity (Spears compares the book to a “person’s baby blanket”) while still encouraging readers to look at the world with a fresh pair of eyes.
“Goodnight Moon taught many of us about object permanence—the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen,” Spears says. “When you wake, the world will be just as you left it, for better or worse. Returning to the book as an adult makes you reconsider what you want that world to look like, and how you want to shape it.” Of course, the illustrations also gave the artists great material to work with: an iconic color scheme and repetition and rhyming, for instance.
Goodnight House is a curated happy space. “The book is an icon that has comforted so many people, and I want to bring comfort and joy to people right now, more than ever,” Spears says.
The installation is on view at Fort Makers through May 27.