Sunday, April 18, 2010

Charles Addams's New York

Recently I went to the Museum of the City of New York's new exhibit on the work of cartoonist Charles Addams. It's there until June 8 and you should definitely go ASAP.

You probably know of Charles Addams's most famous creation "The Addams Family" which started life in the pages of The New Yorker and has since been brought to life in TV shows, movies, and now a Broadway musical. Gomez, Morticia, their kids Wednesday and Pugsley, their relatives Uncle Fester, Cousin It and others have become American icons -- a bun
ch of creepy, kooky, mysteriously ooky folks who think they're as normal and put-upon as everyone else.

But the Addams family was only part of Charles Addams's oeuvre. For almost fifty years he produced thousands of cartoons for The New Yorker and other publications that gave creative and hilarious view of NYC. This exhibit is called Charles Addams' New York and it displays a number of his cartoons, both published and unpublished, depicting the city through his wonderfully subversive mind.

Most of his cartoons present a city-scape -- usually a building or a street -- that looks 99% normal. The eye scans it, seeing nothing particularly unusual. But his cartoons reward the attentive eye because, just when you think you've literally seen the whole picture, you notice that one thing, usually a hilarious small object, that totally re-writes the reality of the picture. One of my favorites is a picture of a construction worker sitting on a steel beam, eating his lunch. The picture is simple, straightforward, but then you see what the worker is looking at: a billy goat -- a billy goat -- standing on a higher beam. It's a very simple but hilarious cartoon -- and there are many, many more like it in this exhibit.

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