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Bart Beaty On The Art Spiegelman Exhibit At Galerie Martel In Brussels
posted June 9, 2009
 

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By Bart Beaty

I'm in Brussels this week, where it never ever stops raining, but where comics fill the streets. Brussels has always been the most comics-friendly city in the world, but this is the year that the tourism office really noticed it. Consequently, the city is hosting literally dozens of exhibitions related to comics as a way to bring in visitors this year. I don't know if that's a good idea or a bad one, but it brought in me. I'm going to hit as many as possible, and I'll do my best to let you know what's going on.

But, before we get started, let's not forget that other center of French comics: Paris. I spent a couple of days there last week and saw two good exhibitions: Vraoum!, the show at La Maison Rouge, and the Art Spiegelman exhibition at Galerie Martel. Let's consider the Spiegelman first.

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Galerie Martel is a small art gallery just south of Gare de l'Est operated by the wife of Lorenzo Mattotti, and which frequently holds exhibitions of comics artists. The Spiegelman show opened Thursday with the artist and most of the luminaries of European comics in attendance. And why not? First, it's an exhibition of work by one of the most important of living cartoonists. Second, it's a sale of art by one of the world's most important living cartoonists. I'm not sure how often Spiegelman sells his work, but I was struck at the show by the fact that I couldn't recall any other time when I'd seen his work for sale.

Most of what is for sale at the gallery are sketches and preparatory drawings, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars for more recent (and smaller) works on paper, to tens of thousands for some well-known Maus-related images. Final, production-ready art was not for sale, although a number of very nice prints were, as well as a special portfolio produced for the exhibition.

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Looking at this much Spiegelman work at once is an interesting experience. Some of his original pencil sketches are very beautiful. More than many cartoonists, his process is really visible on the page, and the labor (both mental and physical) that he pours into his images is very apparent. You never get a sense that the work just pours out of Spiegelman's pen as you might with many of his peers. The work is constructed, in all the senses of that word. With some images (an Einstein drawing done for a magazine cover, for example) multiple versions of the same work were on display, and this sense of process was really driven home. While not a comprehensive overview of his career by any means, the Galerie Martel show offered a very specific set of insights into the creative process of one of the all-time greats. Highly recommended.

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