MONTCLAIR, N.J.- The Montclair Art Museum (MAM) has announced the July 14th opening of a first-of-its-kind exhibition, Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes on view until January 13, 2008. The exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected an ever-evolving American culture through more than 150 original drawings, rare comic books and graphic novels from the Golden Age of comics (1938-1946) to the present. Never-before-seen original drawings and other work from the private collection of area resident Michael Uslan, producer of Batman and Batman Begins, will be the cornerstone of this exhibit, which unites seminal work of the genre from private collections around the country.
Curated by MAMs Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky, with assistance from Curator of Native American Art Twig Johnson, and award-winning film producer and comic book collector Michael Uslan, Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes examines the modern comic book, from its humble origins in 1934 as the reprinted pages of Sunday newspaper comic strips, to its ascent as a thriving industry that has fueled the American imagination, to the enormous successes of its contemporary offspring, the Hollywood blockbuster film.
A second exhibition, Comic Book Legends: Joe, Adam, and Andy Kubert, will feature the original drawings of the comic art dynasty that has influenced generations with their work. The exhibition of select art from the Kuberts oeuvre will hang in the Shelby Gallery.
"By September 2007, a significant portion of MAMs galleries will be devoted to the comic book genre, with all of its cultural, artistic and social relevance," says Patterson Sims, Director of the Montclair Art Museum, "The September unveiling of a new, site-specific mural by Greg Hildebrandt, and the September opening of the exhibition of contemplative and thought-provoking work by Dulce Pinzón will further the Museums exploration of the this facet of popular art.
Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes
From the time of its inception in the early 30s, the modern comic book quickly grew into a thriving industry that became the most popular producer of reading material for children and young adults. This dramatic growth was fuelled by the proliferation of the new superhero comic book characters that appeared in the era of the Great Depression and World War II. Like the mythological heroes of ancient Greece, the comic book superheroes became manifestations of American history, culture, and folklore. As Uslan has observed, the ancient gods of the Greeks, Romans, the Egyptians, and the Norse still exist today, only theyre clad in spandex, capes, and masks.
This exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected national events, aspirations, and attitudes---from the battles waged against Axis powers and corporate corruption by the invincible Superman, Batman, and Captain America, to the era of the 1960s when Spider-Man emerged as the quintessential superhero of his time--an adolescent who had to contend with his own insecurities while fighting evil. This reworking of the formulas for superheroes was also evidenced by greater diversity in comic books with the introduction of African American, Native American, and other minority characters. The exhibition concludes with an open-ended section exploring the impact of the 9-11 crisis as superheroes of the new century worked alongside real, ordinary heroes to address the greatest catastrophe on American soil.
The exhibition is divided into the following five sections: 1) Superheroes Go to War: The Depression and New Deal - 1938-1945; 2) Cold War, Conformity, and Censorship: Comic Book Superheroes in the Postwar Era and 1950s; 3) Questioning Authority: Comic Book Heroes and Sociopolitical Change in the 1960s and 70s; 4) Diversity and Moral Complexity: Comic Book Superheroes of the 1980s and 1990s; 5) Spider-Man at Ground Zero: The New Century and a 9-11 Postscript.
A movie theatre has been constructed in the gallery, which will offer regular screenings of the film Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked (2003) which addresses both the history of comics and their adaptation as mass media entertainment in radio, television, and movies.
An exhibition catalogue will be published this fall in conjunction with the exhibition, which will include a forward by Michael Uslan, with essays by Gail Stavitsky and Twig Johnson.
Michael Uslan, Executive Producer of Batman Begins, served as principal consultant for Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes, providing critical assistance, key loans, and guidance with every phase and aspect of the production of this project. Major lenders who generously shared their expertise and works from their collections include Joe and Nadia Mannarino, All Star Auctions, Stephen Fischler, Ben Smith, and Vincent Zurzolo, Jr., Metropolis Collectibles at Metropolis.com, Srihari S. Naidu, M.D., Joe Kubert, Ankur Jetley, and Richard Sheinaus.