In summer 2010, Tate Britain
will collaborate with a host of comic talent to present Rude Britannia: British Comic Art, a ground-breaking exhibition about the role of humour in British visual culture. Through a great diversity of art forms including painting, drawing, sculpture, film and photography comedy, the comic, and visual humour will be explored in their many dimensions. The exhibition will be presented and interpreted by some of the countrys best-known cartoonists and comedy writers including Steve Bell, Harry Hill, Gerald Scarfe, and the team at Viz Magazine. Their expertise and opinion will offer visitors a fresh take on comic traditions from the 1600s to the present day, and encourage debate around the wider role of humour in British life.
Drawing on material far beyond the traditional realm of visual satire, Rude Britannia will bring together sculptures, installations and performances. Works by contemporary artists such as Angus Fairhurst will be contrasted with key historical pieces by Gillray and Cruikshank. Radio, film and new media will play a part in the show, reflecting how technological developments have consistently reinvigorated the genre and engaged new audiences.
Rude Britannia will focus on a group of key topics, devised in collaboration with the guest curators. These will show the wide variety of ways in which Britains thriving tradition of comic art has taken shape, and the links between comic practices of the past and present. Donald McGills saucy seaside postcards will be shown alongside works by Aubrey Beardsley and Sarah Lucas, in a section devoted to all things bawdy. Meanwhile, Britains love of the absurd and the visionary will be represented by such diverse material as Edward Lears illustrations and David Shrigleys sculpture. Politics, social commentary and morality will each be explored, from Hogarths satires of Georgian society to Gerald Scarfes caricatures of the Thatcher government.
Harry Hill said: "I love comedy and I love art. The absurd is my area of expertise and it will be good to get the disparate strands under one roof, from Edward Lear to Spike Milligan to David Shrigley, plus a few surprises on the way. We have all laughed at art for one reason or the other, this time it will be for the right reasons! It is a thrill to be asked to curate a room for this Tate Britain show."
Martin Myrone, Curator of 18th & 19th Century British Art, Tate Britain said: The comic has always been thought of as a key aspect of British culture, but while other exhibitions have looked at the classic story of graphic satire, Rude Britannia will offer a much bigger picture. The result should be a rich, exciting, and sometimes challenging, new vision of British art.
Celebrating the vivid history of comical images, the exhibition will ask some provocative questions about humour in the visual arts: Is satire truly effective as a means of political messaging? What role have cartoons played in spreading and reinforcing prejudice? Are some things in life truly beyond a joke? Rude Britannia will explore these and other complex issues, reflecting the way that changing social attitudes and identity politics have always played an important role in both comedy and art history.
Rude Britannia will be curated by Martin Myrone, Curator of 18th & 19th Century British Art, Tate Britain; Cedar Lewisohn, Programmer for Tate Media; and Tim Batchelor, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain.