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Art and Artists: New Yorker Cartoons
Two Picassos with Feet of Klee by J.B. Handelsman ©The New Yorker Collection 1989. J.B. Handelsman from All Rights Reserved.

GREENWICH, CT.-The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science in Greenwich, Connecticut, is sure to tickle a few funny bones in its new exhibition Art and Artists: New Yorker Cartoons from the Melvin R. Seiden Collection. On view through December 31, 2005 in the Museum’s Bantle Lecture Gallery, the show features 50 original drawings for cartoons dealing with art and artists, drawn from the pages of The New Yorker magazine. The works, some in color, are on loan from Melvin R. Seiden, who has assembled one of the most extensive private collections of The New Yorker cartoons in the world. Included in the show is a selection of portraits of the artists by photographer Anne Hall. The exhibition is supported by the Charles M. and Deborah Royce Exhibition Fund.

Visitors to the exhibition will discover why The New Yorker figures prominently in the history of comedy, caricature and cartoons. Not only is the cartoon the emblem of the magazine, but The New Yorker also altered the look, structure and development of cartoon art. While anthologies of cartoons from The New Yorker on the themes of lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and even dogs, have appeared, and the recently published “The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker,” with 68,647 entries, covers the magazine’s entire cartoon inventory from 1925 to 2004, there has not been a book or exhibition on the magazine’s cartoons on the themes of art and artists for more than thirty years.

The arrival of The New Yorker in 1925 had a profound impact on the history of the cartoon. In place of the lengthy captions and dialogues that had often been featured beneath a single image in earlier publications, The New Yorker stressed a succinct single punch line that brought the image and words into closer alignment and sharpened the comic effect. The captionless cartoon of manners also placed a new emphasis on the clarity of the situation, costumes, and setting that gave The New Yorker cartoons a distinctive, concise look. Almost from the start, the magazine’s cartoons had relatively little overt political content and less dramatic action than their predecessors; the subtlety and understatement of social comedy reigned.

The New Yorker art cartoons deal with many aspects of the art world, from art collecting to art forgery, while satirizing aspects of painting, architecture and museums. Leonardo DaVinci’s painting of Mona Lisa is understandably a perennial subject of cartoons, which range from references to her smile to reinterpretations of her image as a New York Mets baseball player. The cartoons poke gentle fun at such artists as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, Diego Velasquez, Claude Monet, René Magritte, and Lucien Freud, relying on visual puns, quips and the combination of a witty image and a pithy one-liner. Some of these images play on the classic subject of the artist and his model, while others attest to an increasingly sophisticated and satirical view of the sanctity and pretense of “high art,” be it a send up of Leonardo or Matthew Barney. Still others taunt the world of museums and galleries, artists on the dole, or the subject of art and commerce.

The impact of the drawings reflects the artists’ wonderful draftsmanship, which is richly varied and admirably well suited to the subject matter. The styles range from the simple linear drawings of Lee Lorenz to the elegant calligraphic style of Ronald Searle and the rich narratives of Roz Chast.

The importance of the single-line caption can be seen in two New Yorker cartoons dealing with architecture: an Eskimo peeking out of a pyramidal igloo with the caption “Eskimo Pei” and a drawing of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of domestic architecture, “Falling Water,” with the caption “…the story is that Wright was going through considerable domestic difficulties at the time he designed this one.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a four-color catalogue with essays by Bruce Museum Executive Director Peter Sutton and Bruce Museum Senior Curator of Art Nancy Hall-Duncan and with photographs of many of the artists.

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