Snickering encouraged at NY caricature exhibit

Fri Nov 4, 2011 12:25pm EDT
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By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Snickering is strongly encouraged at a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Giggles and guffaws that typically would be met with a cold stare in the museum's hushed galleries are the goal of "Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine," which runs until the beginning of March.

"Oh! This is horrendous!" laughed Richard Miller, 81, a New York City abstract artist enjoying the show with friends.

Miller was looking at a grotesque drawing of a drooling, runny-nosed baker, a spoof on culinary hygiene in the 18th century by Britain's Thomas Rowlandson, who is considered one of the greatest contributors to caricature's Golden Age, the late 1700s to early 1800s.

Pulled from the museum's collection of 1.2 million drawings and prints, the 162 pieces in the exhibit chronicle how sarcasm blossomed as an art form from the 1600s until today.

Arranged to spotlight the influence early caricaturists had on future generations, the show inadvertently reveals that mankind basically has three jokes that it has been telling for centuries - about food, sex, and power.

"The show is about humor but it also has this deeper side," said associate curator Constance McPhee, who with curator Nadine Orenstein spent two years creating the show.

A major focus of the exhibition is the rich and politically powerful, skewered with abandon by artists who largely escaped censorship often faced by writers.   Continued...

<p>A hand-colored etching entitled 'French Liberty, British Slavery' by James Gillray (British, 1756-1815). REUTERS/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Adele S. Gollin</p>