There were three main people who worked on the show on our
end, Jesse Nathan, Jordan Bass, and myself, and we all took
a shot at writing essays about the work we’d found and
included in this show. The first drafts of these essays were
a little formal and maybe even pretentious. We re-wrote them
and they still didn’t seem right. So finally we settled
on the text below, all of it mercifully brief and plain.
This show, titled Lots of Things Like This, came
about when apexart asked for an idea for a show. The first
thought that occurred to us was an exhibit that would highlight
work that included these three elements:
1. An image
2. Some words (usually referring to the image)
3. A sense of humor
The show never got much more complicated
than that. We started with the artists we knew we had to include:
Raymond Pettibon, Tucker Nichols, Maira Kalman and David Shrigley.
All four of them had found a place in the fine art world,
even though in many cases their work was both narrative and
funny, a combination that’s historically been rare in
galleries and museums. For the most part, artists who use
text in their work don’t write punchlines – the
text is usually abstract or oblique, open to interpretation.
But the rise of comics-based art, and of Pettibon in particular,
had opened the doors to new hybrids of words and images, thank
So we started looking for work
by our starting four artists, and many others, that satisfied
the criteria. We figured we would bring in some artists who
generally go by the label cartoonists (because, generally
speaking, image + text + humor = cartoons), and we did, but
we also found some great examples of the form from long-dead
painters (Goya, Magritte), more recently dead genre-straddlers
(Steinberg, Warhol), and a wonderfully diverse group of artists
from all kinds of disciplines: writers, poets, musicians and
playwrights. Actually just one playwright, David Mamet. But
he's one of the best.
In some cases, this sort of work
is central to what an artist does. Solakov and Perjovschi,
for example, are well known for their brilliant and witty
combinations of text and image. In other cases, as with Silverstein,
this kind of captioned art is at the outer edge of the artist’s
oeuvre. But we can say that just about every artist that we
investigated, or had a hunch about, did indeed have work like
this tucked away somewhere. Long after we had filled the show,
we were finding fascinating examples of the form, and of course
there are a number of obvious omissions in this show, from
Lichtenstein to Picasso.
In any case, being loathe to draw
conclusions about the artists’ motivations or methods,
because, again, so many of these people are dead, we’re
instead going to list some questions that occurred to us and
might occur to you and might help the show blow your mind
Why is it that so many of these
artists aren’t so great at spelling? And why is it that
when they screw up one of their words, instead of starting
over, they just cross the word out and write it again? Many
people would choose to start over.
Why is it important to many of
the artists that the drawings appear casual, even rushed?
Is the loose draftsmanship part of its appeal, in that it
seems more intimate and disarming? Is absurdity more appealing
when it comes across as humble?
What is the line between a doodle,
a cartoon, a gag, a work of fine art, and will there ever
be a time when someone doesn’t insist on writing a similar
kind of silly and rhetorical sentence in an art catalog?
In some cases does it seem that
the artist is defacing his or her own work by adding the text?
That’s partly why we included the Duchamp / Mona Lisa
experiment and the Goya – in both cases the words are
a lighthearted comment on a finished or abandoned image. Sorry,
that’s not really a question. Moving on...
Does this excerpt from an essay
by Michael Bracewell, writing about David Shrigley, help us
understand what some of these artists are up to? Here’s
the relevant part: “Shrigley’s unlocked studio,
situated near a struggling job club, was often raided by vandals
who amused themselves by making additions to his drawings.
Acknowledging the comedy within the discrepancy between the
miscreants’ anti-art attitude and the claims of fine
art to instruct or enlighten, [Shrigley] began to develop
a graphic style in which the banal or the absurd could be
Couldn't it be said that these
artists are doing lots of not-encouraged-in-art-school things
at once, given they’re making work that’s narrative,
often informal, un-self-serious and usually featuring punchlines?
And given its crossing of these many boundaries, doesn’t
it make sense that its practitioners would come from so many
Does the subject matter –
in many cases private and withdrawn – fit the form of
these drawings? That is, is there something shy and retiring
about this work, as if you’re looking at something very
private, something not meant for public viewing?
Is it instructive that a good percentage
of the art we chose to put in the show was hard to find? More
often than not, we would find something in a book or online
that we wanted to include, and when we got in touch with the
artist, his or her gallery or estate, they would have no idea
where the original was. No one would know. It was refreshing,
in a way, and seemed appropriate for the form. Again, it doesn’t
take itself so seriously.
But it does bring pleasure. This
was really the guiding motivation behind the researching and
hanging of this show: to put an enjoyable exhibit together,
to cover the walls with strange and funny things. In that
pursuit, we were lucky to assemble a fascinating group of
artists, and we hope you like it.
P.S. The ostensible curator, Dave
Eggers, would like to emphasize just how hard Jesse Nathan,
a very young man who stepped up to help out, worked on this
show. A good deal of the most interesting “finds”
in the show came via his hard work, ingenuity and creative
digging. Jordan Bass at McSweeney’s was a tremendous
help, and of course Kerri Schlottman and everyone at apexart
were exceptionally professional, good-natured, quick and efficient,
and helpful in every way.
Dave Eggers is an award-winning author
and founder of McSweeney's, an independent book-publishing
house in San Francisco. In addition to writing and publishing
books, he is a regular contributor about art and music for
magazines and has designed most of the books and quarterlies
published by McSweeney's, which have been featured in the
National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design
Museum and in the California Design Biennial. He also founded
and opened 826 National, an innovative tutoring, writing,
and publishing nonprofit based in seven cities across the
Lots of Things Like This
is supported in part by the Peter Norton Family Foundation and
by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council with the generous support
of The September 11th Fund.
apexart's exhibitions and public programs
are supported in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the
Visual Arts, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Edith C. Blum
Foundation, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary
Arts, and with public funds from the New York City Department
of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the