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Robert Crumb
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC
11 avenue du Président Wilson, 75016 Paris, France
April 13, 2012 - August 19, 2012

by James Loks

I love Robert Crumb as much as the next nerdy, sexually-perverse misanthrope but this was almost too much, like being sucked into his arsehole, twisted through various glandular and digestive tracts and then dragged out his gullet via heart and brain. Comprehensive doesn't begin to do it justice and he is no doubt responsible for the forty-percent increase of ogling at girl's bottoms on the Metro home. The man turned me into a monster, unleashed animal fuckatories in my brain I didn't know were there; it's like a part of me became Robert Crumb. Unremarkable perhaps, and not because I too wear glasses and spend an unhealthy amount of time at my desk, but rather because you walk into this show in 1964, and walk out in 2012. That's forty-eight years of Crumb being Crumb, the whole lot: the zines, the comics, the hippies, the drugs, the sexual weirdness, the big feet, the vicious swipes at all the hypocrisy of the world. It just doesn't stop. There are seven HUNDRED drawings in this show, and it feels like when they were counted, an entire panel of a cartoon was considered as one drawing, so it's like seven hundred to an exponential number which could quite possibly take it into the thousands. The only way I survived was by taking a big pause in the music section to listen to a selection of  blues (he played in a band and drew both artists and album covers) to give my eyes a partial rest from the never-ending waves of Crumb.

Robert Crumb; Courtesy of the artist and Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC


And then it was only to stand and see another thirty meters of wall ahead covered in drawing after drawing, which at the time drew an inadvertent exhale of exhaustion from me. This in turn attracted a disapproving look from the chic couple that I'd been standing beside earlier while we looked at a panel called "When Niggers take over the world" and I overheard the following conversation:

"This was at the Biennale."

"The Jew thing as well?"


Which I thought was kind of cute [the drawings that so intimidated me turned out to be the entire illustrated Book of Genesis, so it wasn't an entirely unworthy exhalation].

When I'd eventually been spat out at the end of the exhibition, by way a film documenting the Crumbs' move to France (justifying the show to the French public perhaps), I had the impression that I'd followed Crumb through the hippy period, with all the biting observation of counter culture, through the sexual perversion and liberation, through the eighties when the satire got really vicious, and then on, when we saw the things Crumb loved and found interesting on a more personal level: music, his wife, Kafka, the Bible.

Robert Crumb; Courtesy of the artist and Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC


If the truth be told, I'm not, or I wasn't (or I'm still not sure) a huge fan of Robert Crumb. I'd seen his stuff in the papers and liked it, but I was never a Crumb geek, like so many are; I don't collect comics or graphic novels for starters. But this is one of the great things about this show: as a big retrospective for a significant figure you get a picture of his whole career, you get a sense of his development, and this is what you want I suppose. You're aided in this by good curation: the wall panels are simple and interesting; it's well laid out and takes you through all that expanse of time in a coherent way. Another aspect, and here's where I contradict myself slightly, is that it isn't too much; it's balanced across all the different things that he's done and the overwhelming aspect comes from the fact that he's done SO much work in those forty-eight years. Again to give credit to MAM, they've dealt with this well by offering the opportunity to sit at a number of different stations and look deeper into the work through certain books and iPads. The impression is that you could happily return here again and again.

And why would you do that? Looking at all this work feels incredibly personal, unsurprising as he so often puts himself and his life into his work, but really it's more than that. The most impressive thing about Crumb's oeuvre is its stark honesty, with both himself and the way he sees the world; you get someone who is funny and clever communicating in a very direct way, who doesn't filter his output by a measure of prevailing opinions and mores, and cuts through all the falseness and duplicity he sees around him with precision and a humour as dark as it can be. This is the reason why walking through this show is so appealing; it is to step into Crumbland, to become Crumb-like, to confront your inner Crumb.


James Thompson


(Image on top right: Robert Crumb, Yeti Woman; Courtesy of the artist and Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC)


Posted by James Loks on 7/3/12 | tags: figurative comics drawing

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