With his limitless imagination, Art Spiegelman transformed the comic book into something with the expressive wallop of Picasso's Guernica. This fascinating exhibition is the museum equivalent of a page turner, tracing the artist's development from high school cartoonist to masterful deconstructionist.
Starting out in the 1960s underground comix scene, Spiegelman, who is Jewish, knew that he didn’t want to make the next Peanuts or Blondie. Instead, he aspired to create a graphic novel with the scope of War and Peace and the emotional impact of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. And so was born his 1991 masterpiece, Maus, the story of his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, recast as a tale of cats and mice. The work took him 13 years to complete.
At first glance, confronting Maus can seem daunting, with its page upon page of pictures and text. But you immediately become absorbed in the narrative, which veers from World War II to 1970s Queens, as it recounts the not-so-positive events in the life of a concentration camp survivor. The World Trade Center attack provided Spiegelman with his own tale of loss and survival, captured in his next blockbuster, In the Shadow of No Towers, published in 2004.
Spiegelman’s use of biography—his own as well as family members’—is reflected by the conflicting emotions packed into each frame of his storyboards. Of course, this exhibition demonstrates that there is much more to his work than simply Maus. But even if that were his only accomplishment, it would still cement his reputation as a key figure of 20th- century art.—Barbara Pollack