Critique: New Chicago Comics at MCA

Feature image by Paul Hornschemeier, Excerpt from The Three Paradoxes, 2007. Courtesy of the artist.

New Chicago Comics recently opened exhibit of Chicago comic book, cartoonists kicks off First Fridays at the MCA with awkward intimacy and existential introversion at its best. The show highlights the work of Jeffrey Brown, Lilli Carré, Paul Hornschemeier, and Anders Nilsen. As the throngs of people arrived to kick of a new year of MCA openings, one could almost distinguish the nerdy comic book fans and artsy intellectuals from the masses of faux-art aficionados.

Speaking with Lilli Carré on the steps leading up to the second floor galleries, she admitted her appeal towards the exhibits ability to present the distilled or frozen moment of process. As friends continually approached, congratulating her us as we spoke, Carré noted her interest in seeing the “white-out lines and sketches,” such as the the exposed guiding lines exemplified in several of Paul Hornschemeier’s mounted work. Carré adds, “I love to see the mistakes versus the formal, finished work.” At 27 years old, Carré work deals with subject and intention as fluidly as her intricate and elegant illustrations.

Carré confessed her initial unawareness to the vast world of indie print and self-publishing in Chicago, as she arrived to SAIC many years ago. She confided the splendid moment of discovery of Chicago’s vibrant indie print culture as opposed to the West Coast where she came from. Chicago’s starkly working class and industrial roots surely play a great deal in today’s booming indie print zine and cartoon culture. Drawing from her introduction to cartoon and comic art in Mad Magazine, Carré looks towards the work of Robert Breer, Jim Duesing, and the Chicago formalists for inspiration. Excited to share the detailed process of her own hand drawn animations, the exhibit offered individual frames and selections of her full length films. As it turns out, I recognized Carré as one of the founding directors of the tremendously successful Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation Festival recently held at DePaul University, on Nov. 6, 2010. The whole time we sat on the MCA steps I was trying to place her face, and realized as she spoke on animation, the inevitable connection.

Talking with the wry and witty Paul Hornschemeier, we postulated about the dilemma between the comic vs. the gallery. As a philosopher and science nerd in college, Hornschemeier’s work deals with existentialism and metaphysics with humor and style. He jokes about how he often tries to explain his work to friends and potential buyers for the past 5 years. He jests, “You know that movie Ghost World, well my stuffs kind of like the comic book version of that.” Sarcasm abound, Hornschemeier was intentional to break from the strict encasement and framing of his work as mounted art installation, and opted to have some of his work pasted directly to the walls, giving an air of bus stop, wheat-paste indifference. He wanted the audience to have to struggle to read and follow the work as it’s exhibited on the walls of the MCA.

New Chicago Comics offers a compelling presentation and concern with the movement of self-publishing and independent art vs. the gallery and institutional display of the fetishized object or artifact. It looks as with the further digitization of all art media, the desired object, the graphic novel, comic book, or cartoon strip itself may increase in austere value as it becomes rarer. Hornschemeier, sarcastically declares, “You can’t get laid as easily trying to impress somebody with your vast digital archives, as opposed to your expansive collection of vinyl.” As we laughed, I became disheartened to see the comics trapped and encased in glass viewing tables and frames in some instances, mounted and inaccessible to the hands and eyes that yearn to hold, emote and identify with the work. The distance and prestige of the comic as high art, might tickle the fancy of some art nerds amongst us, and at the same time it might ostracize those die hard indie zine and self-publishing fans in Chicago who thrive off the intimacy and uniqueness inherent to the form.

New Chicago Comics | Jan. 8-30, 2011 | Museum of Contemporary Art

Paul Hornschemeier, From Life with Mr. Dangerous, 2007. Courtesy of the artist.