Exhibition review: Craving for New Pictures, Berlin

Whenever there’s an exhibition with a (sub)title like “From Broadsheet to Comic Strip”, the question for the comic aficionado is: how much comics is there really? As a history museum, the aim of the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM) is to show how printed pictures changed the way ideas are communicated (with a focus on sensational news, propaganda, and education, the three sections in which the exhibition is organised). Thus the exhibits span from late medieval woodcuts to present day political cartoons, and such a wide time frame leaves little room for comics, of course. (There’s also a marked but neither exclusive nor explicit emphasis on Germany.)

Still, some items on display are noteworthy in this context. The earliest are broadsheet picture stories from the mid-nineteenth century – maybe not quite comics yet, but see Andreas Platthaus’s analysis of one of them in his opening speech which was also published in English.

Next to them we have a small section of early American newspaper comic strips (shown as facsimiles), and within it there’s the highlight of the whole show: two Katzenjammer Kids episodes, translated into German and published in Lustige Blätter des Morgen-Journals in 1905 and 1908 (!), respectively. Not quite as early but still remarkable is a German collected book edition of Felix the Cat from 1927.

Famous but seldom exhibited is Pablo Picasso’s two-part etching, Sueño y mentira de Franco (1937), also mentioned by Platthaus.

At the end of the education section there are three examples of the best-selling comic magazines in postwar Germany: Micky Maus #1 (a copy of the valuable original magazine is on display), Fix und Foxi from 1956 (original drawings by Werner Hierl plus published pages) and part of a 1974 Digedags story from Mosaik (drawings + published pages). As interesting as these comics may be, though, I find it hard to see the connection between them and the overall exhibition topic.

That being said, it’s still an exhibition worth visiting if your interest is not limited to comics alone, because there are many fascinating non-comic prints to see. Furthermore, the DHM currently also hosts the excellent and much larger show, 1917. Revolution. Russia and Europe, so your overall museum visiting experience might be better than my rating below suggests.

Craving for New Pictures: From Broadsheet to Comic Strip at Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, is still open until the 8th April 2018.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○
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Exhibition review: Mucha Manga Mystery, Berlin

Mucha Manga Mystery exhibition viewThis week is the last of the exhibition “Mucha Manga Mystery” at the Bröhan Museum in Berlin, the “State Museum for Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Functionalism (1889-1939)”. The title of the show suggests a much narrower focus than the “German comics” show in Hannover, but at the same time a wider range of media. The basic premise of the Berlin exhibition is to show the influence of Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) on subsequent popular culture up to the present day.

More precisely, there are three sections. The first shows diverse works by Mucha, above all his famous advertisement posters. These are always a pleasure to behold, although the Bröhan Museum holds a sizeable permanent Mucha collection anyway, if I remember correctly. (The exhibition was first shown at another museum, though.)

With the second section, we suddenly fast forward to the 1960s and 70s, when designers of rock music record covers and posters allegedly drew inspiration from Mucha’s art. It’s not made clear, however, whether these designers copied or adapted Mucha’s imagery, or whether they were only vaguely inspired by Art Nouveau in general. Furthermore, for someone like me who is actually interested in record covers, it is almost painful to see 19 record covers on display, but not a single one of them credited (neither to the cover designer nor to the album musician). You can listen to some songs on headphones (Cream, Quicksilver Messenger Service, etc.), but the selection of tracks doesn’t correspond to the records displayed. Still, some important record cover designs can be seen here, such as Abraxas, Disraeli Gears, and Sommerabend. Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau continue to exert their influence on record cover designers (e.g. John Dyer Baizley, Malleus Rock Art Lab, Tiffanie Uldry), which raises the question why the exhibition stops in the 70s.

And then there is the third, the manga section. Or rather, a collection of artifacts loosely related to manga. Granted, there is a pile of tankōbon of German translations of manga which the visitors are encouraged to read. But the tankōbon in the display case (titles by CLAMP mostly – RG Veda, Chobits, Gate 7 – but also Million Girl by Kotori Momoyuki and Adekan by Tsukiji Nao) are arranged in such a way that either only the covers are visible, or double-page spreads. In other words, you can’t perceive them as comics, as there are no sequential images. This is unfortunate, and what makes it worse is that, as with the record covers, the purported similarity to Mucha’s art is not convincingly argued for. Frankly, I see more differences, for instance the lack of any abstract graphic ornaments in the manga on display.

These items are accompanied by other non-manga artifacts such as posters and figurines, and a silent projection of the RG Veda anime. For some reason, the label for one of the posters says “artist unknown”, although the artist is clearly credited on the poster itself as “Shinsuke Arai” (probably this one: dead-robot.deviantart.com). It should be noted that there are also some American comic books in the exhibition – again, mostly covers only – by J. H. Williams III and Joe Quesada.

While I criticised the Hannover exhibition for showing too much original drawings, the Berlin exhibition disappoints by not containing any. Altogether I wouldn’t recommend this show, except for the Mucha part.

Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○