Modern art doesn’t have to be stuffy and expensive. It can be as simple, accessible and enticing as an everyday comic book. That’s the idea behind Carnegie Center for Art and History‘s latest exhibit, “Pulp Art: Out of the gutter and on the walls,” which opens Friday.
Nine contemporary artists from all over the country are participating in the show, and their work is largely influenced by comic books and cartoons. Two Louisville artists — Joel McDonald and Yoko Molotov — join Kerry James Marshall (Chicago), Andrei Molotiu (Bloomington), Niagara (Detroit), Robert Pruitt (Houston), Seth Scantlen (Brooklyn), Malcom Mobutu Smith (Bloomington), Britt Spencer (Savannah, Ga.), and Fred Stonehouse (Madison, Wisc.).
Carnegie curator Daniel Pfalzgraf tells Insider he started thinking about putting a comic-inspired show together in 2015 after noticing the top-grossing films the prior year were mostly of that genre. From “Transformers” to “Spider-Man” to “Godzilla,” 10 of the top 15 movies that year were either steeped in animation and sci-fi/fantasy or directly related to comic books.
“Traditionally speaking, comic books and cartoons have been within the purview of children. But seeing how much interest in comics has exploded across our culture, I knew there was some deeper connections in adults who were spending so much money on these movies,” he says. “And, when it all comes down to it, comics are an art form — the writing, the drawing, coloring, storytelling. So I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of work was being done with contemporary artists whose work is more associated with gallery walls than with Marvel.”
Pfalzgraf admits he wasn’t much of a comic reader as a child, but he did warm up to them when he came across Raw Commix as an art student at Murray State. The highbrow comic anthology introduced him to the work of Art Spiegelman, Sue Coe, Henry Darger and others, and it really opened up a whole new world to him.
“It gave me a new way of thinking about comics as art,” he says.
“Pulp Art” features work by some prominent national artists, and Pfalzgraf is particularly thrilled to have a piece by Kerry James Marshall. He was in talks with Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Seattle, which had a few pieces from Marshall’s “Rhythm Mastr” series they were willing to loan.
But between Pfalzgraf’s initial conversation with the gallery owners and the date of this show, the artist quickly grew in popularity from a 35-year retrospective shown at MCA Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Koplin no longer had any of Marshall’s inventory to loan, but fortunately, they helped track down a piece from a private collection.
“So if you want to see his work today, you can come here, or you can see a piece in the Speed Art Museum’s “Southern Accent” exhibit — or you can go to L.A.,” says Pfalzgraf.
He hopes people who come to see the show leave with a deeper appreciation for contemporary art. Using a popular genre like comic books, he hopes to attract a broader audience to the museum and get people more comfortable with the idea of viewing and discussing art.
“Hopefully, once they are here looking at the art, they will start to pick up on other things the artists are doing — studying different techniques of drawing or thinking about the social commentary some of the artists are trying to share,” says Pfalzgraf. “The more time they spend looking at art, the more they develop new connections to great contemporary art, and hopefully that will continue to grow on them over the course of their lives.”
“Pulp Art” opens Friday, May 12, with a free reception from 6-8 p.m. The show continues through July 8. The Carnegie Center is located at 201 E. Spring St. in New Albany.