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Comic nerds are Party Crashers?
D.C. is home to many of our nation’s greatest museums: the Air and Space Museum, the Portrait Gallery, the American History Museum … the list of popular eighth grade fieldtrip destinations goes on and on. But if you’re seeking something beyond the National Mall that features an art form less traditional than your Smithsonian staples—for example, a comic entitled “The Black Shit Monster”—then Party Crashers: Comic Book Culture Invades the Art World, a new exhibit at the Arlington Arts Center and Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery, fits the bill. Unique and visually engaging, Party Crashers finds surprising ways to display of fine art comics.
Comic culture has exploded in recent decades, evolving from a medium whose artistic and literary value was largely ignored into a highly celebrated art form that is now recognized for both its literary merit and its legitimacy as contemporary art. As a result, comics have become a popular feature in art galleries around the world, although their style reflects an artistic perspective most would not associate with traditional gallery artwork.
The desire to join the discussion about the role of comics in the contemporary art gallery culture inspired Jeffry Cudlin and Cynthia Connolly, the curators of Party Crashers.
“Comics hold a unique appeal because they create a rich exchange between different image cultures,” Cudlin explained. “[Comics] overcome limits of traditional art and conventional storytelling with truly novel solutions.”
Too expansive to be contained in one location, Cudlin and Connelly designed Party Crashers as a collaborative exhibition at two venues. Complementary collections of comics will show at the Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery from Dec. 11 to Feb. 13, and at the Arlington Arts Center, whose exhibit is currently open and will run until Jan. 16.
The diversity of comics on display at both of these locations is incredible. The Arlington Arts Center boasts a fascinating combination of autobiographical comics, with abstract, wordless comics and animated films. The exhibit also highlights “Creative Time Comics,” a current publication that collects nine-panel comics presenting grim social justice issues.
The variety shows in the layout of the exhibit. Cudlin said he contrasted groups of comics that displayed “unvarnished real life” against those that portrayed fantasy, and showed them alongside comics that bridged the two themes, like the story of the aforementioned “Black Shit Monster”—a monster who finds life in a man’s toilet.
The comics that will be featured at the Artisphere, he said, are “deeply invested in the music scene.” Many of the works displayed began as promotional art for small bands.
The sister exhibitions are set up in a way that emphasizes the many distinct genres of contemporary comics, all of which Cudlin hopes will surpass people’s expectations. The exhibit succeeds—everyone from the comic book enthusiast, to the average art aficionado, to the friend who was just dragged along for the Metro ride will find something to love in this fun and exceptional collection of comic art.