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Indepth Arts News:

"Masters of American Comics"
2005-11-20 until 2006-03-12
UCLA Hammer Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art at Los Angeles (MOCA)
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

The history of one of America's great popular art forms is traced in the landmark exhibition Masters of American Comics, co-organized by the Hammer Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) and on view simultaneously at both museums November 20, 2005 through March 12, 2006. It is the first major museum exhibition to examine the development of comic strips and books from their genesis at the beginning of the 20th century to the present through in-depth presentations of 15 influential artists. Masters of American Comics features a staggering 900 sketches, drawings, proofs, newspaper Sunday pages, and comic books by Winsor McCay, Lyonel Feininger, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Frank King, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff, Charles M. Schulz, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware.

Following its Los Angeles debut, the exhibition travels to the Milwaukee Art Museum (April 27 - August 13, 2006) and The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Newark Museum, New Jersey (September 15, 2006 - January 28, 2007).

Unprecedented in its scope, the exhibition provides understanding and insight into the medium of comics as an art form. The work in Masters of American Comics will be organized chronologically to be on view simultaneously at both Los Angeles institutions. Special admission offers and shared membership benefits will be available during the run of the exhibition.

"Among the most innovative and influential art forms of the 20th century, comics have made a singular impact on visual culture that continues to this day," said MOCA Director Jeremy Strick. "This museum partnership underscores the importance of the art form and the extraordinary contributions of these 15 artists." Comic strips and comic books were among the most popular and influential forms of mass media in the 20th century, and have been described as "one of America's few indigenous art forms" by Art Spiegelman. These 15 comic art masters defined an original form and raised it to the highest levels of artistic expression, reflecting on American culture with critical insight as well as popular appeal.

"Comic strips and comic books are quintessential components of American culture," said Hammer Director Ann Philbin. "We are very pleased to present an extensive exhibition that brings to light the work of these 15 cartoonists and establishes their roles as significant American artists with mesmerizing storytelling abilities, brilliant draftsmanship, and often biting social commentary."


Masters of American Comics is the first art museum exhibition to examine comic strips and books on this expansive scale, with over 900 objects on view at the two institutions. Each artist is represented by in-depth groupings presented as a series of individual retrospectives featuring a range of each artistís works from conceptual sketches and finished drawings to printerís proofs, tear sheets, printed newspapers, comic books, and graphic novels.

The exhibition environment and display cases are specifically designed by Chu + Gooding Architects, unifying the presentations at both museums, and highlighting the individual contributions of the artists and the ways in which they reinvented the medium to significantly influence their peers and subsequent generations. Comic strips from the first half of the 20th century will be shown at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, and comic books from the 1940s onward will be featured at MOCA in Downtown Los Angeles. At the Hammer, the exhibition traces the beginnings of American newspaper comic strips through the influential work of such pioneering comic artists as Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland) and George Herriman (Krazy Kat), who set the stage by defining the formal attributes of the genre in the early 1900s. Focusing on the great achievements of this new art form through the centuryís first decades, the Hammerís presentation also includes the groundbreaking work of Lyonel Feininger (The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkieís World), E.C. Segar (Thimble Theatre), Frank King (Gasoline Alley), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), and Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts).

At MOCA, the second part of the exhibition will consider comic books from the early Golden Age to the rise of the independent comics movement. Comic books began as a form in which newspaper comics were reprinted and, with the rise of such series as Will Eisnerís The Spirit and Jack Kirbyís Captain America and Fantastic Four, became the dominant popular medium for narrative illustration. In addition to Kirby, particular attention is also paid to Harvey Kurtzman, whose MAD Magazine transformed the medium into one capable of great artistic expression and social commentary beginning in the early 1950s. By the mid-1960s, R. Crumbís work in Zap Comix added a new level of personal expression and extended the significant role of independent and underground comic books and graphic novels. This medium continues to evolve today through the innovations of such artists as Art Spiegelman (Maus, and In the Shadow of No Towers), Gary Panter (Jimbo), and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth).

Chester Gould
Dick Tracy
August 4, 1957
Drawing for newspaper Sunday page (detail).
International Museum of Cartoon Art. ©1957 Tribune Media
Services. Reprinted with permission. (photo: Steven Barnes,
Photographic Solutions)

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