Just because the word "art" is in the title of the exhibition, there shouldn't be a natural assumption that The Art of Warner Bros Cartoons will actually be art. I don't want to dismiss the show entirely, as it's completely enjoyable and it's already becoming a summer favourite for adults and children alike, but still, after taking in the show, I'm left wondering what this exhibition is doing on the walls of an art gallery.
The exhibition has been touring across North America since 2005 and was originally part of a four-month tribute to animation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1985 that was greatly expanded upon into this current display. Just coming from the Winnipeg Art Gallery, where I heard its bemoans from way over here, I tried to keep an open mind before entering the show about not just what the show is about, but what a gallery could show.
One major criticism I have for the show is that the art of the machine, namely, the Warner Bros brand, is what is raised as artistic impetus and not the names and artisans who collectively worked on the cells and who largely remain anonymous. The production of animation often raises comparisons to sweat shops and though I'm hoping the working conditions are better, this show does nothing to give insight into the labourious part process of the show, with minor information on production and immense focus on the history of the recognizable favourites such as Porky the Pig and Tweety Bird.
So while I strongly believe animation certainly holds a valuable place in the realm of art history, this show unfortunately focuses too narrowly on just the achievements of Warner Bros the company. Disney of course looms over the exhibition, with minor mention of the conglomerate giant in a competitive light, but I felt that was redundant, as Disney cartoons were fundamental to bringing animation into the minds and hearts of the general public. The main difference between the two are of course the inherently Americana feel of Warner Bros, which led to a more focused political and social subtext on America. As a Hollywood animation studio that ran for nearly 40 years until its closure in 1969, Warner Bros has certainly received its fair share of mass and critical acclaim, and here is where it becomes muddy why this show is at an art gallery. As a multiple recipient of Academy Awards, Warner Bros is certainly highly regarded for its artistic achievements, but this fact also reinforces that cartoons remain in the realm of motion pictures and a gallery exhibition dealing with mostly stills falls flat.
My greatest concern with this exhibition is that it simply is not an exhibition that belongs on a wall, no matter how historically important it is to the history of art. I can see how this show may fit into the context of the gallery's museum mandate, but the primary difference is that most film and television museums convey their visual information very differently, namely stretching out a chronology of its development in the medium of the moving image rather than just focusing on facts and diagrams. While there are video stations within the exhibition, the show could have infinitely benefited from far more stations that showed the development of its production in the medium in which it was meant to be seen.
*First published in Vue Weekly