Amidst the chaos of New York Comic Con weekend, Desert Island held a kids-oriented, indie comics event at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The children of New York’s young well-to-do families perused colorful booklets and questioned the authors about their work, while collecting pages of a screen-printed (and laboriously produced) ‘coloring-book.’ Occasional bursts of doodled sex or vomit made it through the content filter and into a child’s hands, restoring an earnestly subversive-ness to the art experience.
The event tied into the last day of a remarkable retrospective of the work of Lyonel Feininger, subtitled “At the Edge of the World.” Feininger is celebrated in Germany, where he spent most of his artistic career. However, he was born, died, and identified himself as an American—and juggled both an American and German national identities during both world wars. He is best known for a crucial misinterpretation of cubism, developing a romantic, conservative style while the art-world grew more abstract, nihilistic and fragmented. Feininger was successful—he was embraced by the Expressionists, and taught at the Bauhaus. I expect that every major museum of modern art has a Feininger in its collection, but his ‘Prismism’ proved more curious than influential. The Whitney’s resurrection of Feininger didn’t so much revoke previous dismissals as shift the focus away from Prismism to other facets of his work.
In addition to his paintings, “At the Edge of the World” showcased Feininger’s cartoons, photographs, prints, music and wooden carvings. Yet its obvious that Feininger didn’t consider these works as seriously. In a bid to restore Feininger as a relevant artist, the Whitney told a story that Feininger wouldn’t have told about himself. I’m also not sure it’s a story the art-world would have told until recently. The Whitney uses his cartoons and carvings to validate the rosy nostalgism of Feininger’s painting, yet the paintings justify the presence of the cartoons and carvings in the museum. The event is structured like a biographical wunderkammer—a cabinet of curiosities, a history museum. And comics, long eschewed and appropriated by fine-art, are represented on world-class gallery walls and showcased through a series of tie-in events, like a talks featuring Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter and Chris Ware, and “Zine Festival.” Read more