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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Bart Beaty On The Vraoum! Art Show At La Maison Rouge
posted June 10, 2009
 

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By Bart Beaty

Vraoum! Comics and Contemporary Art is the name of the big comics art show now on at La Maison Rouge on Boulevard de la Bastille in Paris. It's something of a strange name and something of an odd show, mixing original comic book and comic strip original art with other forms of comics-inspired art works (video installations, sculptures, wall paintings, easel paintings and so on). Overall, I thought that the show was more interesting than a conservative show like Masters of American Comics, though far less coherent than some of the best recent comics exhibitions like Maitres de la bande dessinee europeenne.

imageEssentially, the show featured two kinds of works that could be grouped as "comics" and "works inspired by comics." The strong point of the original comics on display was the tremendous breadth. This was the first time, for instance, that I had seen original work by Tezuka, and it was nice to see the work of Franquin, Barks, and Segar in close proximity to each other. More pointedly, one section included originals by Saint-Ogan, McManus and Herge, allowing influences to really be laid bare.

Much of the original comics art was arranged thematically: westerns, science-fiction, superheroes (one of the weakest areas: Kane, Romita Jr., Jim Lee, but no Kirby, no Ditko...), but works by masters was spread throughout. Most of the names you would want to see included (Crumb, Eisner, Schulz, Raymond, Caniff, Tardi, Moebius, Bilal, McCay, Herriman, Outcault, Kelly) were well represented. Indeed, I can't think of a single show that I've ever seen that had a more catholic sense of the important artists in the field. One flaw would be that while the show extended to the present generation for European (Satrapi, Dupuy-Berberian, Blain, David B., Trondheim) and Japanese (Taniguchi, Toriyama) cartoonists, their American equivalents (Ware, Clowes, Los Bros) were largely absent.

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In addition to the copious quantity of original comic art, the show included a number of interesting art works inspired by comics, including those of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. Gilles Barbier's wonderful piece about aging superheroes, L'Hospice, occupied most of the space given to that genre, and visitors were welcomed by Guillaume Paris' video installation of falling animation characters and a Rivane Neuenschwander wall painting.

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Generally speaking, the "comics" of the exhibition's title outpaced the "contemporary art" by a ratio of about three or four to one, but the latter provided interesting changes of pace from the walls full of black-and-white line drawings. Seeing, for instance, Takashi Murakami's sculptures and Chiho Aaoshima's photos of cosplayers relative to the manga originals made both more interesting.

For me, the lone failing of the show was the section of pornographic works (Crumb, Crepax, Manara and others) that was relegated to the basement (the exhibition stretched over three floors). Because of the spatial arrangement of works, this would be the last thing most visitors would see, and it ended the show on a down note as the work was pedestrian and boring. I think that the absolute highlight was seeing every page of Jochen Gerner's amazing book, TNT en Amerique, which works better on the wall than it does even on the page.

There is a catalogue of the show available for 35 Euros that I bought but haven't read. It has very little text and mostly features the works themselves.

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