Sunday, April 01, 2007

R. Crumb at YBCA

Yesterday I went to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to check out the R. Crumb exhibit. I really like his drawing, though, I've never been much interested in the content itself. I think this is because I don't share any of his obsessions. Nevertheless, I like the idea of a museum exhibit about his work, & I definitely wanted to see it.

It's a fun show, & the work itself needs no explication. However, the exhibit doesn't have an organizing principle. Perhaps this is because Crumb's sensibility appears to have been fully-formed from the start. Even though the works are from several decades, they reveal no obviously stylistic development or chronology. Perhaps the curators could have provided a background or context. I came away mainly with an aesthetic appreciation of his work.

Looking at his drawings confirmed my suspicions about Crumb's virtuosity as a draftsman. It's unusual to see any kind of under-drawing or corrections. Even the pages from his sketch book show that he rarely has to restate any line he puts down.

The wall text seems a bit defensive at times. It makes the point that Crumb's becoming mainstream is not indicative of him "selling-out". He is positioned as someone who was an artist in his own right starting in the 60s, a complement to the abstract & formalist art movements of his time.

The wall text accompanying a cartoon with explicitly racist content states that Crumb is demonstrating the prevalence of racism in American society. I'm less convinced by this explanation. Of course the black female in the cartoon is an obvious caricature. But I don't think that we are meant to see it with any sense of distance. To me it looks like Crumb just found the caricature very attractive & accessible. He liked it.

Appropriately, a lot of the visitors were baby-boomers who were no doubt Crumb's original audience back in the 60s. There was even a family with their college-age son.

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