True confession; if not for comics I probably wouldn't be an artist. As a kid from a small town with blue collar parents, museums and cultural opportunities might as well have been on the moon. Culture was spending an hour at Signor's Cigar Store looking through the comic rack until getting getting the word to buy something or get booted out.
It wasn't until college that I got to see the great underground of the comic world and Art Spiegelman.
The Jewish Museum's Spiegelman retrospective is a chance to see a cohesive body of work that features both his Pulitzer winning Maus and a substantial body of early work.
The exhibition includes some great early works like Ace Hole, Midget Detective and The Viper Vicar of Vice, Villainy and Vickedness as well as his Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages.
Art Spiegelman 'Garbage Pail Kids'
I was struck by the thought while looking over the material how different it looks on the wall as opposed to the book format I'm used to. Comics and graphic novels have an ability to retain an air of transgressive nature by their format in book form that eludes most 'high' art or 'fine' art. These are works that by their nature are resistant to becoming a commodity in the current high stakes art world poker game. While there is a collectible market for early comics, for the most part Spiegelman's work remains available for view or for purchase insuring that its importance lies in the art not in scarcity.
Wall viewing also provides us with an opportunity to see the artist at work. More than a few panels are unpacked with the addition of preliminary sketches that show how the images build up to final compositions.
Art Spiegelman - from In the Shadow of No Towers
In the years since Maus, Spiegelman has referred to the work as the 5000 pound rodent on his back; although from my viewpoint he remains vital, evidenced from the works at the end of the exhibit including his In the Shadow of No Towers and collaboration with Pilobolus on a dance and theatrical work.
Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix is at the Jewish Museum through March 23.
(5th Ave at 92nd. st. NYC)