‘UNDER THE GUILLOTINE’ BRINGS LIFE TO HUMOR
Satire has long been a compelling component in documenting and confronting the narratives in United States history. Denver’s own Center for Visual Art presents a satirical show brilliantly executing this confrontation titled Under the Guillotine: James Gillray and Contemporary Counterparts.
The exhibit presents original works by 18th-century caricature artist James Gillray and living artists like VICE’s Molly Crabapple, Chris Dacre, and Deb Sokolow. All the original Gillray works were both supplied and curated by University of Denver’s Arthur N. Gilbert, the associate professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The works are displayed at CVA now through Mar. 19.
Dubbed the “father of modern caricature,” British artist James Gillray created art in the form of political satire, criticizing 18th-century English politics. The nature of his work also reflects much of the political and historical controversy found in the 21st century. Gillray focused on printmaking, and he harbored a penchant for mordant caricatures of contemporary political figures like King George III and Napoleon Bonaparte, among others.
The gallery houses over 60 hand-colored etchings from Gillray, exhibiting the same morbid humor at the expense of the affluent that society has grown to know and love today. Similarly, the works displayed by Crabapple, Dacre, and Sokolow portray the same sardonic tone toward politics and societal norms seen in the 21st century, such as commentary on the current status of the priorities of war in the US and the absurdity of certain politicians.
Crabapple is a New York-based writer and artist, widely known for her work with VICE. Her illustrations jab at the inanity of society as it stands today. Crabapple portrays satirical caricatures and commentary on groups like ISIS and Donald Trump. Through her enticing and colorful paintings, she brings out the absurdity in life.
Dacre is a former soldier in the US military. Drawing upon his background as a soldier, Dacre combats the romanticised notions of war and addresses the realities of life as a soldier. In the gallery space, Dacre displays installations of toy soldiers and tanks. A particular piece displays an ironic interpretation of a music box, replacing the spinning ballerina with a toy soldier.
Chicago-based artist Sokolow displayed textual pieces reminiscent of 1960s graphic war posters, that hone in on the conspiracy theories that hover in society, namely that of the DIA conspiracy.
As Crabapple states, “Artists have few powers, but there is one thing that is ours alone: we get under the skin.” These artists, dead and alive, share this essential component of art and commentary in ways that will be understood and remembered for a lifetime.