Silent Pictures, running from September 1 through October 11 in the James Gallery, will focus on aspects of comic book structure and syntax that do not depend on words to advance an image sequence. The exhibition is inspired by artist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman's personal collection of wordless comics and graphic novels -- mostly black and white rare artist books from the 1930s. The show will feature a selection of these books, as well as more recent “abstract comics,” and a related film program -- all of which investigate essential qualities and aesthetics of this hugely popular medium.
The abstract comics, compiled by art historian and cartoon artist Andrei Molotiu for a just released anthology, Abstract Comics, Fantagraphics Books, 2009, call attention to the formal mechanisms that underlie all comics. Where the earlier art collected by Spiegelman retains a narrative, often politically charged thrust, the comics gathered by Molotiu emphasize the dynamic graphics that lead the eye and mind from panel to panel, suggesting that these structural elements are fundamental to the emotional register of the medium.
The exhibition will also feature a specially commissioned wall drawing by Renee French, a hand-drawn animated film by the British artist team Rachel Cattle and Steve Richards, and a new collaborative project for the Graduate Center's Fifth Avenue lobby display windows by Gayle Fitzpatrick and Carl Ostendarp.
In addition, Columbia University art historian and film scholar Noam Elcott will curate a related film program titled "Comic-Film-Strip." To be installed in a small gallery-within-the-gallery, this program will feature mostly wordless, animated historic films, in which the frame-by-frame narrative parallels developments in the wordless comics that also emerged during the first half of the 20th century. “Comic-Film-Strip” will include selections of films by Emile Cohl, Walter Ruttmann, Norman McLaren, and Robert Breer, as well as a very early partially animated film by William Kentridge. Elcott will elaborate on “Comic-Film-Strip” in a public conversation to be held September 25, 6-8pm in the Graduate Center’s Skylight Lounge.