The Art of Humor: Five Hundred Years of Caricature and Satire at RAM
Representing roughly five hundred years of engaging and spirited artwork that explores satire and caricature from the Riverside Art Museum’s permanent collection, The Art of Humor presents works by well-chronicled pioneers in satire and caricature art, such as Honoré Daumier, Francisco Goya, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as important modern and contemporary artists, including: Leonard Baskin, Sanford Biggers, Salvador Dalí, ‘Gronk’ of the ASCO art collective, Raymond Pettibon, and Kara Walker. Late 18th century engravings after da Vinci’s pivotal Grotesque Heads series juxtaposed with contemporary sculptural pieces from 2008 attest to the rich and varied stylistic range of the exhibition.
Satire, while primarily a literary genre, is also found widely in the visual and performative arts. Usually meant to be humorous, satirical art focuses on follies, vices, and sociopolitical trespasses, with its primary function being to provide constructive social criticism. Sharp witticisms and a militant sense of irony or sarcasm often dominate this artistic modality, which functions as a property of numerous art movements spanning history. Other properties of satire can include: exaggeration (principally found in caricatures), double entendre, parody, burlesque, and analogy. Artwork with satirical characteristics has been used for centuries to express sociopolitical commentary and reflect or influence public opinion.
Caricature, the exaggeration of certain features or properties of a subject, is meant to be humorous in its exposure of certain ‘truths’ that the artist or society perceives about the subject. Additionally, some caricatures containing superficially humorous elements, and satirical works of art in general, can also address serious and complex issues. Widely popularized for commercial use in Europe, in conjunction with the rise of lithographic prints around the turn of the 19th century, caricature can also embody the playful, affectionate, and whimsical.