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Comic Book Characters in Art

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Whaam! Boom! Pow! Turns out all the superheroes we love and the villains we love to hate made their way into art. Any art history buff knows that Roy Lichtenstein is the painfully obvious choice for artists who remind us of the comic book medium.


Let’s take this chance to move past the Lichtenstein wall and explore some other artists who have used superheroes and their comic book existences as sources of inspiration.

 

After all, the (comic) book is always better than the movie.

 

Superman by Mel Ramos at the de Young Museum

 

If Five for Fighting’s song about Superman’s soft and sensitive side had a fine art counterpart, it would be this painting by Mel Ramos. As the song goes, “It’s not easy to be me.” So emo.

This work came out of an attempt to stop copying the work of Willem de Kooning. To do so, Ramos transitioned to the reference-filled world of Pop art – so he basically just started copying something else. He found inspiration in mass-produced print media and particularly in comic books. He took special interest in the stories of Superman and Wonder Woman. It turns out that Superman can not only save the world from the forces of evil but also an artist’s career from flopping. After a MoMA curator pretty much called Ramos lame in 1963, the New York modern art mecca now houses ten of the artist’s paintings.

 

Hulk (Organ) by Jeff Koons at The Broad

 

Jeff Koons is notoriously weird, so it should be no surprise that he has turned the iconic Incredible Hulk into a whole series of multi-media works. From oil on canvas paintings to polychromed bronze sculptures, the Hulk Elvis series poses the Hulk in a wide range of disturbing iterations.

Check out the pipes on this guy...literally. This particular piece can actually function as an organ. Because Koons is super rich and therefore can do whatever he wants, he enlisted the help of the same organ design firm who built the organ in the Disney concert hall to turn a metal sculpture of the Hulk, which is meant to look like an inflatable toy (a la his instantly-recognizable balloon animals) into a musical instrument. In yet another Koons piece that totally makes sense, the extremely loud sounds of the organ embody the Hulk’s hyper-masculinity.

 

Untitled by Stephen Birch at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

 

This sculpture is enough to give anyone with even the strongest stomach what I like to call “the weirdsies.” The pieces of the puzzle are recognizable (everyone knows Spiderman, and the opposing man’s face is ordinary enough), but the ultimate puzzle just doesn’t add up. Stephen Birch’s sculptures makes the familiar seem endlessly strange, and this piece is no exception.


I also can’t tell what’s more distraction – Spiderman’s package, which is intentionally huge, or the lifeless look in the disembodied head’s eyes.

 

Mouse Heaven by Kenneth Anger at the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Not all comic strips are about actual superheroes. Some are about funny-looking mice who don’t do anything in particular. There are people who loved all things Disney when they were children, and there are people who still love Disney well into adulthood. You know – those people who get engaged and/or married outside of Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom. And while this is some people’s dream come true, this is more like my personal hell.

Kenneth Anger knows what I’m talking about. Mouse Heaven is a cinematic parody and investigation of all things Mickey Mouse. Although the character of Mickey started out as a cartoon, the infamous mouse eventually snuck his way into the comics section of American newspapers by the 1950s.

But don’t let my pseudo-communist pessimism get you down. Go out, buy a good comic book, and get reading!


By Amanda Lampel

Sources

Sources

  1. Whitney Museum of American Art. “Mouse Heaven.” Collection. http://collection.whitney.org/object/27372. Accessed September 13, 2017.
  2. Whitney Museum of American Art. “Audio Guide Stop for Jeff Koons, Hulk (Organ), 2004-14.” Watch and Listen.” http://whitney.org/WatchAndListen/1075. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  3. Suddath, Claire. “A Brief History of Mickey Mouse.” Time. November 18, 2008. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1859935,00.html. Accessed September 13, 2017.
  4. Sactown Magazine. “The Naked Eye.” June-July 2012. http://www.sactownmag.com/June-July-2012/The-Naked-Eye/index.php?cpartic.... Accessed September 12, 2017.
  5. Orgelblau Glatter-Gotz. “Jeff Koons Hulk (Organ).” Projects. 2015. http://www.gg-organs.com/index.php/projects/jeff-koons-hulk-organ. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  6. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. “Untitled.” Collection. https://www.mca.com.au/collection/work/2008.59A-B/. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  7. Koons, Jeff. “Hulk Elvis.” Artwork. 2017. http://www.jeffkoons.com/artwork/hulk-elvis/hulk-organ. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  8. Artnet. “Mel Ramos.” Biography. Artists. http://www.artnet.com/artists/mel-ramos/. Accessed September 12, 2017.
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Amanda Lampel

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