The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 7, 1997 · Page 145
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December 7, 1997

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 145

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Sunday, December 7, 1997
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THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1 997 5J 'Coffee Table Book' gives R. Crumb platform as serious artist flicted enough to make fun of the very notion of "coffee-table art" on the book's cover: "Original! Groundbreaking! Controversial!" cries a contorted modern dancer, while under a nearby tree Natural thinks "Big, Pretentious, Expensive." Crumb's main involvement in the package, it seems, was to nudge it away from solemnity. That included the title itself: "Kitchen had a much more serious idea about it," he says in a tele Comics may get their due At the very least, this weighty volume could help to lay the groundwork for a new and larger appreciation: flipping through these pages, it's hard to deny the sheer esthetic allure of Crumb's pen work, the grace that his cross-hatching imparts to subjects fantastic and mundane, the savage, articulate, lowdown absurdism that is uniquely American, and, most shocking of all, the cauterizing honesty in matters personal ; and sexual. Before Crumb can be given his' due, however, the culture's , attitude toward his medium needs to change. "You can't deny the vitality of comics indefinitely," Storr is convinced. "People are going to have to realize that their minds spend a certain amount of time in " his world." In other words and despite : well-intentioned coffee-table pack-. -ages we may have to come to Crumb in his chosen format: tatty, disreputable comic books like , Mystic Funnies, the title he'll be releasing through Wildwood Pub- lishing this month. And that's even if he'll have us. "It's good to be an exile," the;1 artist says over the trans-Atlantic phone line. "It's not so much for : the art as it's good for your "A lot of the important cartoonists all have their 'R. Crumb period' that's kind of embarrassing to look back at. Pictures of people trucking with very large feet. Myselt included." The graphic artist Peter Kuper, who taught a class on alternative comics for nine years at the School of Visual Arts in New York, feels that Crumb's importance crosses decades: "With Weirdo, he gave a voice to a whole new generation of underground cartoonists who didn't have an outlet." Given Crumb's own ambivalence, though, it's perhaps too much to expect The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book to place him in the context of all 20th-century American art. And it's doubtful that many in the art world would have him despite well-regarded one-man exhibitions in New York. To a great degree, this is a result of his medium, and the snobbishness it engenders. "The comic book genre will always suffer from the fact that it bridges divides that the art world has worked hard to create, between narrative art and the kind of picture-making that is not narrative," says Robert Storr, a curator in the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. "Crumb ... has a humor that's as sophisticated as his anger. I think he absolutely is a serious artist." phone interview from Paris (Crumb's home base is the small French village of Sauve, where he lives with his wife, the artist Aline Ko-minskv. and casually defends the decision "I don't have anything against color per se," he says some of his peers feel differently. "The work was done in black and white to be in black and white," says Art Spiegelman, "and this is literally like what happens to those Ted Turner movies." Still, if the Coffee Table Art Book misses the scope of Crumb's later work, it does provide the useful service of placing him in several larger contexts. Most superficially, but critically, it's a reminder that he's far more than the gifted geek of the Zwigoff film. Alternative comics' father Crumb, for his part, has renewed his long friendship with the director of Crumb, after a period of tension, but he still chafes, less at the film than at its unexpected success. "Imagine a movie like that coming out about yourself and then still being able to do any work," he grouches. Then there's Crumb's unargued stature as the father of alternative comics. The ceaseless fecundity of the book's images the back cover illustration shows the artist's creations literally exploding from his skull underscores how inescapable an influence he is, sometimes to the detriment of those who followed. "He became this monolith that you had to pass through to find your own style," says Spiegelman. By Ty Burr The flew York Times The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book weeds out the rubberneck-ers -early. If your primary knowledge of the underground cartoonist is through Terry Zwigoffs 1995 documentary, Crumb, you may leaf through the pages of the lavish tome with a growing sense of disappointment. Where's the wacky, dysfunctional family circus, the suicidal older brother upstairs, the younger brother on a bed of nails in an SRO hotel, the carnal comedy of Crumb's ex-girlfriends discoursing on his sexual dimensions? They're all merely alluded to in passing, and that is precisely the point. The minds behind the Coffee Table Art Book editors at Little, Brown; Crumb's longtime publisher Denis Kitchen, and, with his famous ambivalence, Crumb himself know that the film's upscale audience would sooner confess to watching Jerry Springer than be caught buying his work in a comic book specialty store. In the art section "This puts him in the art section of a bookstore," says Kitchen, "which, with the possible exception oiMaus author and New Yorker cover artist Art Spiegelman, just doesn't happen to cartoonists." It's a canny marketing ploy and, with a 40,000-copy initial run and the promotional muscle of a major publishing giant behind it, a serious one. And, not for the first time, it raises the question: given the "low" medium in which he works, can what Robert Crumb does ever be considered high art? The last person to ask is Robert Crumb, since the artist is con day cards made during his stint at the American Greetings Co. in the early '60s. Then the drugs kick in and all hell breaks loose: from the riot of taboo subject matter (racism and incest, anyone?) and old-timey drawing style gone berserk came Keep on Truckin ', Fritz the Cat and a comic called Zap that Crumb sold out of a baby carriage on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, thereby single-handedly creating the underground "comix" industry. "A lot of it had to do with a combination of extremely driven youthful obsession with my art and that drive encountering LSD visions," Crumb says of that period. "I was just burning with inspiration." His subsequent career has been a reaction to that initial conflagration, and to the unwelcome fame that ensued. And here may be where The R. Crumb Coffee Table Book falters, by showcasing admittedly lovely sketchbook out-takes, somewhat redundant tales of Crumb's "troubles with women," and less-impressive oil paintings at the expense of '80s and '90s pieces that show his art deepening and maturing. Particularly underrepresented are stories from the pages of Weirdo, the 28-issue comic title that saw a renaissance of Crumb's work in the form of long, gorgeously illustrated pieces on the seminal bluesman Charley Patton, Blade Runner's source, the author Philip K. Dick, and Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis. There are other controversies surrounding the book, not the least of which is the colorization of many pieces that were originally in black and white. While Crumb Crumb their 16-year-old daughter, Sophie). " 'The Art of R. Crumb,' like 'The Art of Toulouse-Lautrec' I had to make fun of the whole format, just in order to live with it." Whatever his feelings, the slick, often astoundingly . funny 250-page compendium does make a case up to a point for Crumb as an unparalleled craftsman, social critic, sexual obsessive, blues freak, fly-on-the-wall of the '60s and perhaps the most potent cultural curmudgeon since ILL. Mencken. The book tracks his career chronologically: juvenilia like the private comic books, inspired by Carl Barks' work for Disney, that Crumb created with his brother, Charles, is followed by daffy birth- pa. -.1 MMiSffl I " ' iwKij tP-ti;- -Jy-j' Hit, ft? 7, JOHN KELLY & COMPANY Paved Paradise la the Rinker Playhouse Friday, December 12 & Saturday, December 13 at 8 pm Performance artist John Kelly transforms himself physically and vocally into the legendary Joni Mitchell, paying homoge to her words and music in this extraordinary production titled Paved Paradise. All seats: $25 TAKE TH UJHOU fflflHW Oil fin AmflZlnG TRIP IRTO (HRISTITIAS' PAST! December 5th, 6th and 7th or, Dec. 12th, 13th and 14th Open 5 pm till 10 pm each evening. Admission: Adults $1 Children 6-12 $1 Children under 6 are Free! Don't miss this once-a-ycar event! Celebrate the holidays with a trip back in lime. . . 100 years ago to an old-fashioned Christmas Village: complete with a holiday light show, historic homes, antique fire engines, hay wagons, train rides, big bands, carolers and strolling minstrels. Veitsruear Village 9)67 Soiidum Blvd., West P-Jin Batch, 7 miles west 1-95 4,w,iiu.imi,ii; Uith florid fcirorniiivh' Fnr Mnw Infnrrmtinn f:i!l- C&l) flW nillAtiaig'iiiiMiliVy www.GoPBI.com www.southnoridafair.org ROGER WUITTMER'S "family Christmas" la Dreyfoos Hall Tuesday, December 1 6 at 8 pm British troubadour Roger Whittaker celebrates 35 years as an entertainer in this special holiday program featuring Christmas favorites along with old and new songs ond his trademark whistling. Tickets $20-$40 1 ii wmm mmm wm i imr it W niiii i HMnwmimi-i 1 " i s i t. '' ' ' j FAIT M UL "THE GREAT AMERICAN MUSICAL! A SWEEPING PANORAMA THAT EMBRACES FOUR DECADES OF AMERICAN HISTORY, FASHION, AND MORES. GLORIOUS AND BOLD." THE NEW YORK TIMES JOYFUL "A SUMPTUOUS CELEBRATION BRIMMING WITH EMOTION. RENDERED IN A MAGNIFICENT SCORE, AND FEATURING SO MANY PERFECT SCENES AND SONGS THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MENTION THEM ALL." LOS ANGELES TIMES THE PARAGON RAGTIME ORCHESTRA The Charlie Chaplin Film festival la Dreyfoos Hall Tuesday, December 1 6 at 1 1 am and 2 pm Re-live the dawn of Hollywood with three delightful motion pictures by Charlie Chaplin, presented with authentic live turn of the century orchestra accompaniment and sound effects by this occloimed 12-piece ensemble. Tickets $15 TT1 TTT TTTT TT T TIT Tf TT A TXTnTi "'SHOW BOAT' IS AN UPLIFTING, EYE-OPENING, EAR PLEASING, LANDMARK PRODUCTION WITH AN ABILITY TO STARTLE US WITH ITS FRESHLY DISCOVERED BEAUTY." VARIETY 4J T TT fu J v x r - f JON SECADA In Dreyfoos Hall Thursday, December 18 at 8 pm Since his emergence from Gloria Estefan's Miami Sound Machine, Jon Secada has become an international superstar with such smash songs as "Too late, TooSoon," "Heavenls too" and "After All Is Said And Done." ' .'mm J JL I '. I t! 4 U . 1 1 ; With support from Tickets $35-$52.50 Sponsored by: Mr. and Mrs. Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. TIIE WESTERN WIND VOCAL ENSEMBLE "The Chsnuksh Story" feva Feldshvh la the Gosman Amphitheatre Thursday, December 18 at 8 pm America's preeminent a cappella singing group explores a dazzling variety of Jewish music; collaborating with distinguished actornarrator Tova Feldshuh for this critically acclaimed performance of The Chanukah Story. Tickets $20 I"" in fl ft c j

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