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Slap! Pow! Bam! ... VRAOUM!

by Laura Angela Bagnetto

Article published on the 2009-08-02 Latest update 2009-08-03 17:01 TU

Gilles Barbier, The Hospice, 2002La Maison Rouge

Gilles Barbier, The Hospice, 2002
La Maison Rouge

Slap! Pow! Bam! Anyone who's read those words knows they come from the world of the comic strip, beloved by children and adults alike for over 100 years. At La Maison Rouge in Paris, the Vraoum! exhibition celebrates the world of comics in its original form alongside contemporary art that has been influenced by the funny papers.

Culture in France: Vraoum! A comics and comic-inspired exhibition

02/08/2009 by Laura Angela Bagnetto

Hi by Hsia-Fei Chang (2008)Courtesy of Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris

Hi by Hsia-Fei Chang (2008)
Courtesy of Galerie Laurent Godin, Paris

"Vraoum! [that's how the  French spell Vroom!] is a touch of craziness, and it's also extremely energetic," says David Rosenberg, one of the curators of the exhibit. "It's the sense that you get into something, and vraoum! you leave, you go very fast, like getting into the Batmobile."

Rosenberg and Belgian artist and writer Pierre Sterckx curated the Vraoum! exhibition. Rosenberg asserts that this is the first time an exhibition of this level has been mounted, mixing more than 200 original comic strips and contemporary arts influenced by the funny papers.

"We tried to keep something energetic and entertaining - something that we felt was about the comics as well as the art that was influenced by the comics. It's a great love story between those two different arts, there are very strong connections."

Comics are an unusual art, because they became popular in the late 1800s, around the advent of other reproductive arts, such as photography and audio records. But mass-reproduced art is generally regarded as a lower form, as comics were for years.

Detail of Err, Thunderbunny© Galerie Louis Carré, Paris

Detail of Err, Thunderbunny
© Galerie Louis Carré, Paris

"The fact that it is a popular art and that it is reproduced in huge amounts of copies, they [the comic strip artists] accept the fact that all their drawings won't be so well reproduced," says Rosenberg.

When reading a Tarzan or Superman comic in the newspaper, you get a feeling for the story, and the drawings convey the action, according to Rosenberg.  

"But when you are facing the original, that's the only moment when you can recognise how great these masters are. It's something that you cannot find when you see the annual, or when you read the newspaper," he says.

From In the Land of Wonderful Dreams by Winsor McCayLa Maison Rouge, private collection

From In the Land of Wonderful Dreams by Winsor McCay
La Maison Rouge, private collection

To visitors walking through the exhibition and looking at the original india ink drawings, the characters seem three-dimensional, whether it is Charles Schultz's Snoopy character from the American classic comic Peanuts or Jerry Spring (1954), a tale of the American West drawn by Belgian master Jijé (Joseph Gillain).

"The perfection of the drawing, the clarity of the language, the analysis of space... it's fantastic, actually," says Rosenberg.

"You have the same thrill, the same excitement, the enchantment when you are in front of a drawing of Picasso ... why would it be different?"

The curators went through private collectors, taking extra care to consult private collectors so that they could obtain original comic strips from all over the world, including some that date back to 1916.

"Usually they started to collect 20 to 30 years ago, when nobody was paying attention to this. This cost nothing at that time. Sometimes they were thrown in the garbage after they were printed," Rosenberg explains. Today, some works, such as the cover of the comic book Tin Tin in America (1931) by Hergé, went for 800 euros at auction.

 Tin Tin by Hergé, 1938© Hergé/Moulinsart 2009, private collection

Tin Tin by Hergé, 1938
© Hergé/Moulinsart 2009, private collection

Rosenberg quoted noted Belgian comic strip artist André Franquin, who said, 'We used to walk on it... you draw, you flash, ie you take a photograph of it, they print it, and you throw it away.'

They thought it was nothing, he adds. Franquin's original Spirou et Fantasio comics are on display at La Maison Rouge.

Mingled in and around the original comics are the contemporary works of art inspired by the strips. Artists of the 1980's New York scene, such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who were directly inspired by comics, are on display, along with pop art favourite Roy Lichtenstein.

One of the most popular pieces of the collection is a thought-provoking piece called "The Hospice" by French artist Gilles Barbier (2002).

The piece consists of six life-sized mannequins in a hospice setting. All the figures are well over 70, and while they all look retired, each is still wearing their action-hero uniform.

The Hulk sits in a wheelchair watching television, Catwoman is dozing in an easy chair, Plasticman's arms are hanging over a table as he reads a book, Superman is using a walker; and Wonderwoman is comforting an obese Captain America, who is attached to an iv as he reclines on a stretcher.

"I like this," says Cedric, describing the Barbier piece. "Everyone is old and ugly."

The curators have put together a show that will appeal to adults and children alike. One special section in the basement features erotic comics, such as ones from Robert Crumb as well as Valentina, drawn by Guido Crepax.

Children are invited to draw their own comics directly on a multi-coloured wall with chalk and erasers provided by La Maison Rouge.

"Vrauom! vraoum! to La Maison Rouge immediately," says Rosenberg. "It is worth it!"

Vraoum! is open to the public until 27 September at La Maison Rouge. Admission is 7 euros. The exhibition is wheelchair accessible, and guided tours are available in English and French. Bookmark and Share


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