The AGO will bring an exhibition of acclaimed cartoonist Art Spiegelman to its walls in December.
If you’re at all familiar with comics, you’ve almost certainly heard of Art Spiegelman. The New York–based cartoonist was involved in the underground comix and alt-comics scenes of the ’70s and ’80s, but is probably best known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning Holocaust memoir, Maus—which helped bring the medium more into the mainstream. Now Spiegelman is headed to the AGO with the exhibit Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective, opening December 20. The exhibition was originally put on at Angouleme, the world’s premier comics festival, and has since made stops in Vancouver and New York.
The retrospective of Spiegelman’s work demonstrates the breadth of his influence in both comics and illustration. While he’s most commonly associated with Maus, he was also the co-editor of seminal comics magazines Raw and Arcade, and his New Yorker covers have been cultural touchstones and lightning rods for controversy for more than 20 years. Yet comics and illustrations have historically been viewed as ephemeral commercial objects—people often still find it surprising to see them displayed on the seemingly permanent walls of galleries traditionally reserved for so-called high art. The Spiegelman exhibition itself will not, of course, be permanent, but it does point toward a growing appreciation of comics as fine art—a change in cultural sensibility that Spiegelman earlier helped advance with his 1991 exhibit at MoMA, which followed the controversial, high-profile exhibit High/Low, curated by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik.
This will not be the first time the AGO has presented comics in its gallery: Chester Brown’s work on the critically acclaimed Louis Riel is on display until October. But the Spiegelman exhibit does represent another clear sign that institutions like the AGO understand that the cultural contributions of comics go beyond a particular genre and audience and deserve their own context and understanding.