Story by Sandra Williams-Herve
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Some purists may argue that comics and graphic novels do not translate well at art galleries. I disagree. Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective is a display that covers 50 years of his intense body of work. The exhibit includes rarely seen, delicate manuscripts and iconic imagery.
Visitors will be invited to explore history and slip into a rabbit hole that leads to the dark and messy side of humanity. Arguably, it is works like these that are the essences of what make metropolitan galleries the treasure troves we know them to be today.
What is art and why is it important? It is exactly that kind of questioning that drives people underground. Counter culture does not just live in the shadows — it thrives. And, eventually it swims up to the surface to gasp for air. Occasionally, it finds its place in the mainstream — often without overwhelming approval — but it earns undeniable respect. This is true of Swedish-born Spiegelman.
He has joked that he is as recognizable as a badminton player, but his clout has garnered him a worldwide cult following. Recently, he has been interviewed about the massacre in Paris at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose chief cartoonists were slaughtered, apparently by Muslim radicals.
“What are we supposedly — in our culture clash of civilizations, we’re not trying to find a culture that’s so repressed it can’t function; it’s one where we have to look at various issues from various points of view,” Spiegelman said while speaking to Democracy Now. “And what’s interesting to me is how great cartoons are at doing that, where it puts things in a high relief. And when they’re in a high relief, you can see them. You can then surround them with lots of words trying to contain them. But the images cut past all that. They move so directly into your brain that there’s no place to avoid them.”
Spiegelman, a graphic artist, art director, writer and editor, almost single-handedly transformed underground comics into high art. In fact, in 2005 Time Magazine named him as one of the top 100 influential people of the year. When you see this exhibit you will understand why.
However, come with an open mind. CO-MIX is not your typical art gallery experience. You will walk past spreads of large panels of text and see sketches of works in progress. It may provoke you to ruminate on the relationship between history, pop culture and self-expression.
The 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus used the form of a child’s bedtime story to tell the wartime experiences of his parents, Vladek and Anja Spiegelman, survivors of Auschwitz. In 1979, he travelled to a concentration camp for research purposes, allowing him to better tell his family’s story. He spent hours interviewing his father to create the novel that took more than a decade to create. This journey led him to find his voice as an artist.
CO-MIX features more than 300 works on paper, including early sketches, original Maus manuscripts and children’s book illustrations. At the AGO, Maus is the centrepiece of the exhibit but it is also peppered with his work from The New Yorker and Topps Chewing Gum company, which, incidentally, spawned runaway hits like the Garbage Pail Kids.
Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective runs at the AGO until March 15. Spiegelman will return to Toronto on January 26 for a lecture titled “What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?” at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
MORE ABOUT THE ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO
Public transportation: Take the TTC subway to St. Patrick station and walk three blocks west along Dundas Street to the museum. Or take the Dundas Street streetcar to either McCaul Street (if travelling east) or Beverly Street (if travelling west) and you will be in front of the museum. TTC tokens for subways and streetcars is $3 for one way. [Read more on how to Get Into and Around Toronto]
Art Gallery of Ontaro Hours
Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday: 10 am–5:30 pm
Wednesday: 10 am–8:30 pm