Showing posts with label exhibit review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label exhibit review. Show all posts

Monday, February 24, 2020

Bruce Guthrie on UVA's Oliphant exhibit

by Bruce Guthrie

I went down to Charlottesville this weekend to see the new Oliphant exhibit there.  While there, I met with Molly Schwartzburg who was co-curator of the exhibit that I had been sending emails to regarding photo policies and such.  We had a good chat!

This is the official exhibit description:

Oliphant: Unpacking the Archive
September 23, 2019 – May 30, 2020
Celebrating the recent acquisition of editorial cartoonist Patrick Oliphant’s voluminous archive

In 2018, Patrick and Susan Oliphant donated almost 7,000 drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptures, and sketchbooks to the UVA Library. Complementing the art is a wealth of archival material: correspondence, photographs, professional papers, scrapbooks, and recordings. This, the first exhibition to juxtapose the archive with Oliphant’s artwork, shows how and why Oliphant became the most widely syndicated, most influential political cartoonist in America, shaping the political consciousness of generations.

What happens when a great artist takes up the profession of political cartooning and deploys all the weapons in his considerable arsenal to send a message? Endowed with a skepticism of the status quo, a love of drawing, and little formal training, Oliphant began his career at eighteen as a copy boy in Adelaide, Australia. When he joined the Denver Post in 1964 he introduced a linear fluency and wit—a studied awareness of adversary traditions from Hogarth, Goya, and Daumier to David Low—as well as an expansive imagination and conceptual reach as yet unknown to American newspaper audiences.
Oliphant’s swift rise to prominence, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1967, was followed by five decades of sustained, uncompromising work. From Watergate to Bridgegate, from Duoshade to digital delivery, and from the ephemeral newspaper cartoon to the lasting medium of bronze, Oliphant’s work both embraces its immediate context and transcends the particulars of time, place, and medium to reify universal traits of human character.
Today is a moment of great change for political commentary and visual satire. As newspapers continue to fold or merge, and the number of staff editorial cartoonists drops from hundreds to dozens nationally, Oliphant’s archive will be essential for understanding the place of political cartoons in newsprint’s last decades of dominance, and inspiring paths forward in an era of turbulent uncertainty.
It's a wonderful exhibit, filled with bunches of his daily strips, his sculptures, etc. 

For me, the major disappointment was that most of the artwork were reproductions.  Apparently, the originals were hung for the first couple of months when it opened in September, but were then rotated out.  The signage was not changed to reflect this so I'm not entirely sure what was original and what wasn't.  That's not the way it's supposed to be in a research library.

But ignoring that, there is a lot to love about the exhibit:
  • The sketchbooks -- so many sketchbooks! -- are wonderful.  There's even one (clearly a reproduction) that you can pick up and look through.  Pat drew everything! 
  • There's a huge doodle picture on an easel that's just amazing.  Between classic drawings are phone numbers, addresses, and appointment reminders.
  • The sculptures -- two of which are downstairs -- are great.  The National Portrait Gallery has copies of most of them too, but they all went off display when the presidential gallery was reorganized.
  • There's a free poster and a fairly modest brochure.  Both feature a self-portrait that he did for San Diego Comic-Con back in 2009. That was the one that I sat next to his wife Susan during his talk while he drew obscene things on his writing tablet (Susan kept covering her eyes during the demo).
  • The history lesson about growing up in Australia and coming here on assignment were interesting.  I always wondered why he was here.
  • There was a display about Punk, the penguin character that visits most of his strips.  Punk has been around.... well, hell, almost forever.  It's his signature like Ralph Steadman's splatter.  And like at Steadman's Katzen exhibit, you'll find Punk on the walls in something like ten places throughout the building including on floor landings and in the elevator.  (Some Katzen folk got splatters added to their business cards.  I'm not sure that happened with Punk.)
They did a really nice job and it's well worth the trip.  Plus that library also has an interesting exhibit about the Declaration of Independence and offset printing. 

I of course did my normal photo obsessive thing -- so many photos! -- and they're up on

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Exhibit Review: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston

by Mike Rhode

The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. Kate Grumbacher. Washington, DC: Embassy of Canada Art Gallery, September 13, 2019-January 31, 2020.

The Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, between the White House and Congress is a striking setting for this small exhibit on For Better or For Worse, the long-running and popular comic strip. From 1979- 2008, the strip followed the lives of the Patterson family, a wife and husband (a dentist) and their three kids and dogs as they grew up in Canada. The strip is still running in reprints. The exhibit was originally shown in a gallery in Canada and modified by Grumbacher for exhibit in Washington. Johnston was in town for the exhibit opening, and also spoke at the Library of Congress the following day. She noted that she can no longer draw the strip due to tremors, but she’s being creative in other ways. On the back of the introductory plinth is fabric that she’s designed and goofy paintings of dogs and cats, but the exhibit largely concentrates on the comic strip.


As you walk into the exhibit, a large panel depicts a collage of her characters over the life of the strip, and has the title of the exhibit in French and English. The exhibit is bilingual throughout. In French, for the record the title is L’Art de la Bande Dessineé selon Lynn Johnston. Turning left from the title plinth, Johnston’s desk is featured along with some early drawings framed above it. The desk looks barely used compared to some other cartoonists’. The ‘office area’ is bounded by a small wall, and on the other side of that is a small interactive section where a visitor could color a sheet with characters from the strip, or create their own four-panel strip in a blank sheet of squares. A large set of labels explains the process of creating a comic strip. Next to that is a small enclosed exhibit case with family photos, toy cars and other materials she used as references to draw the strip. Next to the exhibit case is a group of several original Sunday strips matched with color prints to show how they 
 actually appeared in the newspaper. 


The main characters of the strip are introduced, and then large panels with purple headers explains the high points of the strip over the years. These included “Michael & Deanna” (the oldest son and his wife), “April’s Birth” (the third child), “Infidelity,” “Lawrence Comes Out” (when the character was revealed to be gay, it was a major controversy), “Mtigwaki” (the eldest daughter Elizabeth goes to work in a First Nations community), “Shannon Lake” (an autistic character introduced in a school setting), “Elizabeth’s Sexual Assault,” “Elizabeth’s Wedding,” “Death & Illness,” and “Farley’s Death” (also controversial when the family dog died saving April from a stream).

The exhibit concludes with a short film, a quilt of the characters (hanging up very high), and in a nod to our locality, reproductions from the Washington Post of a page of comic strips, and Michael Cavna’s article about the end of the strip. 

This is a celebratory exhibit. There is no deep analysis of the social or historical implications of the strip, beyond the purple panels’ basic claims, and that is fine. The exhibit is both a celebration of a Canadian artist and an enjoyable hour-long stop for Washington’s tourists, in a venue they would not normally see. More photographs of the exhibit are at and Johnston’s Library of Congress talk at

(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)



(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 22:1, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on January 8 2020, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

Friday, September 06, 2019

Exhibit Review: 100 Years of Cartoons in El Universal: Mexico-United States As Seen By Mexican Cartoonists.

by Mike Rhode

100 Years of Cartoons in El Universal: Mexico-United States As Seen By Mexican Cartoonists. Augustin Sánchez González. Washington, DC: Mexican Cultural Institute, September 4 – October 30, 2019.

El Universal was Mexico’s first modern newspaper, according to the exhibit, and on its first day of publication in October 1916, the first thing readers would see was group caricature of the men writing the new Mexican constitution. The exhibit commemorates both the 50th anniversary of editor Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, and the 100th anniversary of the newspaper.

Sánchez González organized the bilingual exhibit into five sections. The first deals with the establishment of the newspaper with its early cartoonists Andrés Audiffred and Hugo Thilgmann, as well as comic strips influenced by American strips. Two original strips by Audiffred and two caricatures by Thilgmann are highlights of this section, which also includes two sheets of the original comics section of the paper, as well as reproductions of front pages with cartoons. This section is supplemented with a video of the curator discussing the exhibit. 

The second section is on the influence of the American cartoon and comic strip. A reproduction of a newspaper page by Guillermo “Cas” Castillo of comic strip characters such as the Katzenjammer Kids and Mutt and Jeff with caricatures of Charlie Chaplin is displayed with large reproduction drawings by Juan Terrazas of Cas’ drawings of the characters. Terrazas is the director of the Museum of Caricature which was a major contributor of pieces to the exhibit. This room is by far the weakest part of the show. In spite of the curator’s comments about fame of the characters during the exhibit opening, the comic strips are too far removed from the current audience’s experience to be recognizable. Only students of the form recognize the 100-year old characters today. A local connection to the exhibit venue is seen in Rogelio Naranjo’s self-caricature of as a young dandy holding the Washington Post with a headline announcing his arrival in D.C., but the placement of the piece in this section is odd, and probably just is an artifact of the layout of the rooms.

The third part concentrates on caricature of American presidents, and the fourth on Uncle Sam and U.S. politics. These and the next section are by far the strongest part of the exhibit with original artwork by masters such as Antonio Arias Bernal, Ruis, Naranjo and Helioflores featured. It can be interesting and instructive to look at caricatures by artists who are not natives of the country, because they tend not to use the same tropes or exaggerated features as a local cartoonist might. Bernal’s drawing of Eisenhower is clearly recognizable, but Ruis’ cartoon of John F. Kennedy makes him look more like Superman’s Jimmy Olsen, and Efren’s caricature of Reagan does not seem accurate at all. Audiffred is still working for the newspaper at this time, and has a nice heavy ink line displayed in his drawing of Vice President Richard Nixon. Naranjo’s drawing of Jimmy Carter is firmly in the large-headed David Levine-influenced style, but with two men hanging on barbed wire behind Carter, is probably harsher than what would have appeared in an American publication. One of the pieces that resonates today is Helioflores drawing of Richard Nixon as a tree with multiple cuts in its trunk and titled, “¿Caerá? (Will it Fall?).” Although there are two good caricatures of Trump in this section, the Nixon drawing feels timely.

 The section on Uncle Sam’s best piece is “Cáscaras (Banana Peel Fall)” by Bernal, showing Uncle Sam slipping on a United Fruit Company banana peel. This section however, reveals the problem of the lack of dates in the captions as the viewer will not necessarily be aware of the events that prompted the cartoon. An exception of course is Altamrino’s odd untitled drawing of Uncle Sam missing two front teeth after September 11, 2001. Kemchs’ “Alambrada (Barbed Wire), a color print of Trump’s name as barbed wire is a clever piece even if it does not feature Uncle Sam.

The exhibit closes with a section on masters of Mexican cartooning. Without needing to hew closely to a theme, this section is the strongest part of the exhibit. Excellent examples by all the previously named cartoonists are featured along with others by Omar, PIT, Carilla, and Dzib. 

Overall the exhibit is an interesting and educational introduction to one particular niche in Mexican cartooning. Additional photographs can be seen at The exhibition is open Monday – Saturday on 16th St NW, and includes a free booklet. The historic mansion that holds the exhibit is available for a guided tour as well, and features striking murals by Roberto Cueva del Río of Mexican history up the three levels of the main staircase. I believe there is an accompanying book and will provide additional details if I can confirm that.

(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 21:2, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on September 6, 2019, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)