It is difficult to find the right approach to historicize and properly give recognition to comics. Recently numerous art institutions have been opening their doors to the world of comic creators. This generally is a much appreciated nod of acceptance to those creators that have risen above the norm of story and illustration to create a work of importance both in the visual and literary worlds. In 2006 there was the traveling exhibition Masters of American Comics, which showed the works of notable artists such as Crumb, McCay, Spiegelman and other already lauded creators. There are comic based museums on both coasts; the Comic Art Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York, which is currently closed until it opens in a new location later this year. Most often, whether it is in single exhibitions or in institutions dedicated to the craft, comic book work is brought into the gallery space, creating a challenging experience for actual visitors. Flat gallery walls viewed at a distance deemed appropriate by the institution make it hard to actually read the material. Another obstacle is the time that it might actually take to read through any one given page of text, which is often much greater than the statically generous 30 seconds of viewing that any one work of art receives from an average patron.
Funny Cuts: Cartoons And Comics In Contemporary Art is a catalog for an exhibition that was mounted at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany in 2004. However, while the exhibition is over, the intent and research of the exhibition lives on through its catalog documentation. The main impetus of this exhibition was to not bring comics directly into the exhibition, but to instead examine the effects that comics have had on the more traditional arts in terms of topic, illustrative quality, and cultural currency. This crossover point traditionally begins and ends in general consciousness with Lichtenstein, however Funny Cuts does an excellent job at positioning Lichtenstein in the somewhere n the middle of the historical narrative. Early collage work by Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, sit along works by Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon and Takashi Murakami. The exhibition does not dwell on the big names, giving ample room to substantial artists that are less familiar. The delicate vellum drawings of Ida Applebroog recount life as a sadly repetitive, unmoving entity while the complex compositions of Öyvind Fahlström find a relationship to Concrete Poetry.
The main essay of the catalog is a smart, easy to approach history lesson of the overlap and influences of comics on the more traditional arts. While it is absolutely not a complete view on this topic, it brings forth many interesting bits of information, such as Warhol’s attempt to create a series of works based on comic panels that he promptly stopped as soon as he saw Lichtenstein’s paintings that were created approximately at the same time (p. 19). It also gives insight into a greater global sense how comic’s visual style was penetrating fine art in other locations such as the Dominican Republic and Japan, when discussing the works of Hervé Télémaque and Yoshitaka Amano.
I addition to the primary essay by Kassandara Nakas which situates the exhibition in its historical context, there are two additional essays within the catalog to provide more art historical based context for the exhibition. The first a discussion of the use of line work in painting by Andreas Scalhorn and the other an investigation of comics as contemporary myth by Ulrich Pfarr. Unfortunately, these two essays, feel a little too heavy and less investigative than the overall exhibition. While both topics are valid in relationship to a discussion about comics as art, the authors do not truly bring any additional scholarly insight into the topic, however the are a little too difficult for the casual reader being introduced to the subject for the first time.
Overall, Funny Cuts is a nice book to have on the shelf to accompany other academic books adressing the reach that comics have had in contemporary society. As a catalog, it is an enjoyable read with some intelligent research. As an exhibition, hopefully, its approach can serve as a potential model of an option that allows for a different presentation beyond sandwiching issues and pages behind glass.
Funny Cuts: Cartoons And Comics In Contemporary Art
Author: Kassandra Nakas