By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
While superheroes hold an iconic place in American pop culture, Boca Raton Museum of Art’s new headline exhibition, “Beyond the Cape! Comics and Contemporary Art,” highlights how some of the most sought-after contemporary artists have been influenced by graphic novels and comic books.
Far from solving crime and fighting bad guys, “Beyond the Cape!” takes on adult subject matters and topical social issues.
“We have dwelled deeply into the world of comics, away from the flying super men and women,” said Irvin Lippman, Executive Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
“Assembled here is the work of contemporary artists who use comics and graphic novels as their stylistic stimulus. The subjects of the artists deal with current issues of the world. The result can be profound, humorous, surreal, fantastical and always hugely imaginative,” he said.
Featuring more than 80 works by 40 artists, including Kumasi J. Barnett, (The Amazing Black-Man), Indian-American artist, Chitra Ganesh, Mark Thomas Gibson, Elizabeth Murray, and Michael Zansky (among others) and Japanese manga artists Takashi Murakami and Yositomo Nara, the show covers a lot of ground.
Kathleen Goncharov, the curator for the exhibit, along with Calvin Reid, senior news editor at Publishers Weekly and a comic book expert, have chosen video, photographs, sculpture, prints and drawings in addition to rare comics and contemporary and historic animation.
Artist Michael Zansky comes to the world of comics naturally. His father was Louis Zansky who drew the early “Classic Comics” in the 1940s. His 16-foot-high Saturn Series, created with carved, burnt and painted plywood, features mythological creatures inspired by comics, historic models and contemporary aspects of art.
“There is a long history here, in Europe and in Japan between comics and fine art,” said Zansky, who also works as a set designer. “Comics have a large influence in the culture and on contemporary artists. This exhibit showcases artists who are attracted to quirky, visuals and subversive content of adult comics.”
Works by underground comic book artists such as R. Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Mimi Pond, and the Hairy Who artists Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, and Karl Wirsum, are also featured.
The show looks beyond the 1960s Pop Art movement led by New York-centric artists such as Andy Warhol and Ray Lichtenstein, and features the “other” art movements from the 60s and 70s such as the Hairy Who and Bay Area Funk Art.
A highlight of the show is Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall’s comic series Rhythm Mastr, which documents violence in Chicago starting in the 1990s. Known for his flat, colorful paintings of contemporary black America, Marshall’s work is currently selling at the top of the art market.
Lippman calls his works “extraordinary.”
Also of interest is Ganesh’s iconography of Hinduism, Buddhists and her native South Asia, combining tradition with the contemporary visual language of comics, illustration and science fiction.
Her large 3-D hand with neon henna designs is prominently displayed along with her drawings which flip the script on a traditional Indian comic book and its caste-based characters, providing an alternative feminist narrative.
In addition to feminism, many of the selected works address contemporary social issues including divisiveness, immigration, religion, racial prejudice, climate change, gender and LGBTQ rights, according to Lippman.
The exhibit includes a reading room designed by Ikea, to inspire fans of graphic novels who may not be familiar with museums to come visit and experience the works of art in person.
Many of the graphic novels and comic books in the reading room are from the private collection Reid.
Playing on three TV screens are historical Krazy Kat cartoons from 1916, a Superman animation from 1941 and a series of shorts from the early 1920s.
“It’s exciting to see younger audiences express strong interest in this exhibition,” says Goncharov. “Most of the artists in this show are living artists, ranging in age from their 30s all the way into their late 80s. Many are world renowned and others are emerging artists, and we are excited to bring this fresh new art experience to the community.”
The Boca Raton Museum of Art is in Mizner Park at 501 Plaza Real. 561-392-2500. BocaMuseum.org. Beyond the Cape! Comics and Contemporary Art runs through Oct. 6.
Also on exhibit are:
John Ransom Phillips: Lives of Artists –through Aug. 11
Contemporary Sculpture: Sam Anderson & Michael Dean – through Oct. 6.