Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hergé at Centre Pompidou

Herge at Centre PompidouIn another clear example of how much more respected comics and cartoons are in Europe and Japan than they are here in the U.S., the Centre Pompidou (George Pompidou Center for Contemporary Art) in Paris has mounted a major retrospective of the comics work of Hergé, the creator of Tintin.

Tintin, whose stories to my mind are one of the first examples of long-form comics (i.e. “graphic novels”), is a character much beloved in France and his native Belgium, and highly respected elsewhere. The exhibit at the Pompidou is in celebration of the fact that Hergé (Georges Remi) would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2007. It also marks the Centre Pompidou’s own 30th anniversary.

There have been flickerings of recognition of comics as a major art form in America, the Whitney, MOMA and other museums have had sporadic exhibits (see my post on the Masters of American Comics exhibit currently in New York), but we still have a lot to get over in a country that continues to regard cartoons, and particularly comics, as juvenile and unworthy of serious attention. Part of the problem, of course, is that Americans associate comics with super-heroes, and aren’t often exposed to the undercurrent of broader subject matter that is flourishing in independent comics and in pockets on the web, and has always existed in Europe and Japan.

In Europe, where currency was for years imprinted with the faces of artists, writers and other cultural icons rather than politicians, art is viewed a bit differently and comics have a natural place in the mix and represent a wide range of style and subject matter.

The Centre Pompidou has draped an enormous banner with the image of the checked moon rocket from Tintin in Space on the front of the building, hinting at the extent of the exhibit inside. Laurent Le Bon, organizer of the exhibit said “It was important for the Centre to show the work of Herge next to that of Matisse or Picasso, important that the museum show Herge as another artist…”.

The exhibit displays over 300 original drawing and plates from Hergé’s career, which spanned much of the 20th Century. He created 24 Tintin albums, including one left unfinished on his death in 1983.

For those fortunate enough to be in Paris, the exhibit runs until February 19, 2007. For the rest of us, see if you can find some Tintin albums in your local bookstore or library. For more on Hergé see my previous post from last July.

 

7 thoughts on “Hergé at Centre Pompidou

  1. eric

    Hergé is actually a native of Belgium, Brussels as you noted in your July post.
    All of us in Belgium as kids have read 100 times the adventures of Tintin…
    Great art you know
    eric

  2. henry

    As a belgian I’m really proud that comics such as tintin get this kind of recognition all around the world. And it’s true that comics are part of our way of living and are not only reserved to kids. Comics are such a great vault of dreams that we can’t ignore it!

  3. Julie Greene

    Perhaps one reason why Tintin is not considered “art” in the US is because of his consistently blatant racism toward Africans (from Africa or those in the African diaspora). The unredeemable grotesquery of his Africans would make his work unacceptable in the US except as an example of “old school” racism.

    How is this handled in the Pompidou exhibit?

    We allowed our son to read and enjoy Tintin but only after reviewing, explaining and deploring his attitudes toward Africans.
    I guess Herge was reflecting the Belgian colonial outlook of his day.

    Interestingly he is typically respectful of other non-European cultures (Asian Indian, indigenous Latin American, etc).

  4. Charley Parker Post author

    Julie,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I don’t think the racism is what keeps Americans from treating Hergé (or any comics artists) as art. Our response to this kind of thing is a deplorable tendency to rewrite history with misguided “political corrcetness”, and sweep it under the rug as if it never happened. (For example, most of the Warner Brothers cartoons done during the Second World War that purposely featured angry stereotypes of Japanese and German characters are now only available in censored versions, as if to say the originals never existed, we’ve always been a tolerant, racially accepting and politically correct culture… sure. This is called “revisionist history” and is most often engaged in by dictatorships. The fact that proponents of this kind of censorship don’t see it as such genuinely scares me.)

    I haven’t seen the Pompidou exhibit, but I would hope they would handle this aspect of his career by displaying it in context.

    Hergé later apologized for his racial stereotypes, (and some fairly blatant anti-Semetic characters), and said that he was fortunate to have outgrown the naïveté that colored his judgement when he was younger. Most of us can retract or move past things we said at an earlier age, but artists and others whose works or words are on record must deal with those records.

    I think attempting to hide this kind of personal or cultural history, whether out of the pressures of righteous indignation, embarrassment or so-called “political correctness” is a mistake. We do a terrible disservice to those who sacrificed and moved mountains to affect change in society to pretend that the cultural environment they worked so hard to change didn’t exist, or is simply too impolite or embarrassing to mention.

    I applaud your approach to allowing your son to read Tintin after putting the attitudes in context for him.

  5. David Michael

    Does anyone know of a good school for learning cartooning and the art of drawing
    comic strips. I want to go to the best.
    Does Belgium have one associated with the BD Museum? I would really like to study in Europe.

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