Inside Mickey Mouse Pop-Up Art Exhibit 'The True Original'

Mickey: The True Original Exhibit in NY-Publicity-H-2018
Courtesy of Disney

The interactive experience, part of the festivities for the character's 90th birthday, displays contemporary artists' recreations of iconic Mickey Mouse moments alongside archival material from the Disney vault.

Mickey: The True Original Exhibition, a pop-up art installation, opened in New York City today as part of Disney's festivities for Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday.

The exhibition, which Disney says was "inspired by Mickey’s status as a 'true original' and his consistent impact on the arts and creativity in all its forms," features new works from contemporary pop artists like Brian Roettinger, the mind behind Jay-Z's 4:44 album cover, and older works from the likes of famed street artist Keith Haring and Kingdom Hearts designer Tetsuya Nomura.

The Walt Disney Archives allowed curator Darren Romanelli and his artists to view historical material for inspiration. The organization also donated sketches and memorabilia for Romanelli to display at the exhibition, including the original sketch of Mickey from 1928. "That's kind of considered the Holy Grail," Romanelli told The Hollywood Reporter at a press preview earlier this week. "That's something that we fought for and we're really lucky to have that in the exhibition."

The exhibition contains 10 interactive, art-filled rooms. Though the rooms are arranged in roughly chronological order, Mickey: The True Original Exhibition is not a comprehensive overview of the mouse's history. Rather, each room shines the spotlight on a pivotal "Mickey moment." The first room, "Hello Mickey," focuses on his debut in the 1928 short Steamboat Willie. Other themed rooms include "It's Black & White," a celebration of early Mickey black-and-white comic strips; "1928: Original Muse," a room dedicated to Mickey's global influence that features contributions from artists all over the world; and "Burst into Color," a commemoration of Mickey's transition from black-and-white to color cartoons.

One of the most immersive rooms in the exhibition is "Sorcerer's Way," named for Mickey's performance in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence of 1940's Fantasia. The room incorporates a giant recreation of Mickey's sorcerer's hat and fake wells filled with original art from Fantasia. Its centerpiece, Well, So Long! I'll Be Seeing Ya, is New York-based artist Oliver Clegg's ode to Mickey's sorcerer costume. Clegg painted the piece on a canvas made from used outdoor theater chairs. Describing his inspiration, Clegg told THR, "For me, what is most interesting about Fantasia as a project [is that] it's a piece that was liberally meant to engage an audience. The choice of the chairs was important because they represented the viewer and the audience."

Another artist who employed unconventional methods to create their piece was street artist London Kaye. Kaye blindfolded herself while working on Supersonic Skein, her wall-length crochet of a scene from Mickey's first color short, 1935's The Band Concert. "I started out with a really fun and vibrant color palette of yarn and different textures, and I put them all in a bag and blindfolded myself as I picked and chose each color to use," Kaye explained. "It was very meditative."

According to Romanelli, Mickey holds a special place in each contributing artist's heart. "Happiness, positivity, he's this icon of positivity," Romanelli told THR. "I remember going to Disneyland as a kid and leaving feeling inspired. I've been chasing that and wanting to hold on to that adventure that I felt at the park. So Mickey being the muse and the icon of the park, I've always looked at him as this beacon of light."

Mickey: The True Original Exhibition is just one small part of the myriad celebrations The Walt Disney Company has in store for its corporate mascot's 90th anniversary. Mickey's 90th Birthday Spectacular, a two-hour TV special featuring appearances from celebrities like Kristen Bell and Josh Gad, aired on ABC this past Sunday, and tie-in events at the Disney Parks are expected to continue into next year.

Tickets for Mickey: The True Original Exhibition are $38. All tickets must be purchased in advance. The exhibition is open from now until Feb. 10, 2019.