Chris Ware’s Drawings for New York Periodicals

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Chris WareComics are not fine art (nor should they strive to be), but lately the fine art world has begun to awaken to the merits of its pop culture counterpart. Though full-blown acceptance of comics as an art form may be a long way off, a number of examples from the New York scene from just last year show quite clearly that the door has been kicked open: an exhibition of contemporary African comics at the Studio Museum in Harlem; “Comic Abstraction,” a show at MoMA that reflected on contemporary fine artists’ use of some of the basic aesthetic elements of comics; and of course, the two part “Masters in American Comics” show at the Newark and Jewish Museums.



Gallerist Adam Baumgold seems to subscribe to this fine art school that welcomes comics into the fold; having shown Chris Ware drawings in the fall of 2005, a collection of Jules Pfeiffer comics in the summer of 2006, and Aline Kominsky Crumb’s first New York solo exhibition in February of last year, the man is clearly an art lover with a penchant for the funnies.

Now Baumgold has once again turned his attention to Chris Ware, currently exhibiting the artist’s work for New York periodicals. The show includes five Thanksgiving covers that Ware drew for The New Yorker in 2006, five other drawings for The New Yorker, and thirty weekly drawings entitled “Building Stories” done for The New York Times Sunday magazine in 2005.



Anyone who has ever read or even glanced at a Chris Ware book knows that his work is anything but simple. Whether one narrative fills a given page, or five simultaneously, Ware’s method of story-telling is incredibly complex. His brilliance stems largely from his ability to play with and disrupt the clean, orderly flow of the comic strip without ever completely losing the reader. Sometimes he leads us right up to the edge of an abyss of confusion—but he never actually throws us in. Instead, he brings us back with some signal, some panel, some text bubble that immediately indicates, ‘Oh, yes, this is where I should be going next.’



All of which is to say, it’s hard to read a lot of Chris Ware standing up. His pages are meant to be pored over, scrutinized, and read three different times in three different ways. Particularly when looking at “Building Stories” in the gallery, I found that I didn’t quite have the energy to tackle those thirty pages from where I stood.


It’s wonderful that Adam Baumgold loves and respects Chris Ware’s work enough to show it, and if you’re unfamiliar with Ware, this show might prove a useful introduction. But in the end, Adam Baumgold Gallery is just that—a gallery. In such a context, the drawings can really only be appreciated in a generally aesthetic way, rather than for the heartbreaking stories they tell.


–Jillian Steinhauer

One Comment to “Chris Ware’s Drawings for New York Periodicals”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 14, 2008: Even more harmful than 300