"Charles Addams's New York"

Before you gear up for The Addams Family on Broadway, hit the Museum of the City of New York for an exhibit dedicated to the creator of New York's most macabre clan.

Charles Addams with permission of Tee and Charles Addams Foundation

As a chronicler of the quirks of New York City, New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams penned countless iconic images of the city and its residents, most notably the gothic gang that would come to be known as the Addams Family. Morticia, Gomez, and their eerie spawn and servants appear in a new exhibit, “Charles Addams’s New York,” opening at the Museum of the City of New York on Thursday 4; it coincides with the opening of The Addams Family musical, which begins previews on Monday 8. “At least two generations knew nothing of the fact that the television series of the ’60s, the two animated television series of the ’70s and the ’90s, and the two motion pictures of the ’90s were all based upon cartoon works by their namesake,” says Kevin Miserocchi, the executive director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation. “Addams relished the wealth of subject matter in [New York’s] museums, parks, offices and workplaces, its landmarks and tourist attractions, and the overwhelming variety of its denizens, visitors and workers.” The Addams characters originated almost by accident—and didn’t even have names in Addams’s illustrations. “[Former New Yorker editor] Harold Ross encouraged Addams to come up with more ideas for the household,” says Museum of the City of New York chief curator Sarah Henry. She walks us through some of the pieces on view at the MCNY, 18 of which depict the Addams family itself.

1 Uncle Fester has a taste for gross things—including severed human heads. “It’s a quintessential New York scene: The Automat was a mainstay of working-class dining for a big chunk of the 20th century,” says Sarah Henry, the MoCNY’s chief curator. “Part of what delights us in these cartoons is that they’re so deliciously transgressive. What would Fester buy at the Automat?”

2 The entire Addams Family makes an appearance in this piece, taking a bus excursion to the park. “Everyone delights in a family outing, but their version is this creepy trip to Central Park,” says Henry. Better that than pouring boiling oil on carolers—another family adventure documented in Addams’s work.

3 This drawing features some other characters, including a sea monster and a somewhat evil cat, preparing to launch an attack on the city. “Addams’s New York is populated by this semimythological, gothic-fairy-tale cast of characters that could pop up everywhere,” says Henry. “There’s a delight in their own mischief, rather than horror.”

4 Addams’s illustrations often mixed the gruesome with the mundane, giving his grisly drawings a whimsical, humorous quality; this image appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in 1983, portraying a group of children in costume (or are they monsters?) trick-or-treating around the city by taxi. “What’s so engaging about these cartoons is that you know that there’s something off somewhere, but you have to look for it,” says Henry.

NO HUGS “Charles Addams’s New York”: Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave between 103rd and 104th Sts (212-534-1672, mcny.org). Thu 4--May 16, $6--$10.

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