Co-MiX showcases best of Art Spiegelman

Largest retrospective of Spiegelman’s work opens at the Vancouver Art Gallery 

Many Gen Y readers have been introduced to the work of Art Spiegelman though their academic curriculum. MAUS, Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize- winning graphic novel, is commonly discussed in high school history classes and college-level Holocaust studies.

The cover of PRINT magazine from May-June 1981. (Courtesy of Art Spiegelman)

The cover of PRINT magazine from May-June 1981.
(Courtesy of Art Spiegelman)

MAUS marks only the tip of the iceberg of Spiegelman’s contribution to the art world. CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps offers a detailed, chronological account of Spiegelman’s work, and is open to the public at the Vancouver Art Gallery for the next four months.

The third floor of the art gallery has been transformed into the timeline of Spiegelman’s artistic progress. While it is not as expansive as some of the other exhibitions, the displays take hours to explore.

Gallery walls bear frame upon frame of original panels from a collection of genre-defying comics. These panels are a treasure for fans of Spiegelman or any graphic novel enthusiasts, who can spend hours doing what they would never dream to do at an art gallery— reading comics.

The exhibition starts with Spiegelman’s early work for Topps Chewing Gum Company. As the images he created for Topps are far from traditional cartoons, the job did not fulfill his artistic need, and he soon started drawing comics for various underground publications.

Spiegelman’s self portrait from the cover of The Village Voice from June 6, 1989 (Courtesy of Art Spiegelman)

Spiegelman’s self portrait from the cover of The Village Voice from June 6, 1989
(Courtesy of Art Spiegelman)

Bruce Grenville, the senior curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery, emphasized the importance of Spiegelman’s contribution to the art of comics. Even the cartoonist’s earliest panels were an act of resistance against the mainstream perception of comics as “nothing more than superhero stories”.

“With his work, he was hoping to interrupt the notions that constitute the normal concept of topics appropriate for comics,” Grenville said about Spiegelman during a tour of the exhibition.

Spiegelman did more than interrupt; he raised the alternative comic movement to an international level.

In 1980, together with his partner Francoise Mouly, he published and edited RAW, an art magazine with sardonic issue titles such as “The Graphix Magazine of Abstract Depression-ism” and “The Graphix Magazine of Damned Intellectuals”.

The magazine received attention from alternative comic artists from all over the world, and earned Spiegelman worldwide praise as an editor.

The exhibition provides a selection of highlights from Spiegelman’s numerous creative ventures. There is a display devoted to his brief attempt at drawing kids’ comics, the Little Lit anthologies, which are endearing and borderline disturbing at the same time.

The collection of iconic covers Art Spiegelman did for the [pullquote align=”right”]”CO-MIX offers a detailed, chronological depiction of Spiegelman’s work.”[/pullquote]New Yorker is another noteworthy section of the exhibition. Spiegelman’s cover art offers clever visual commentary on current affairs to complement the writing style of the magazine.

Spiegelman’s experimentation with form and content, as well as his interest in pertinent topics, truly make him one of the most important figures currently active in the art world. For those not familiar with his work, CO-MIX presents a great opportunity to study Spiegelman’s portfolio, and offers a different perspective on a familiar artistic medium.

CO-MIX: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics and Scraps runs to June 9, 2013, at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

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