Friday, October 31, 2014

The Joke's On Art: White Cube

Brecht Vandenbroucke's White Cube (Drawn and Quarterly) is a collection of his many gag strips based on the shenanigans perpetrated by two bald, pink-skinned men in an art museum called "White Cube". The precise nature of the relationship between the two (brothers? lovers? friends?) is kept somewhat vague, making them a sort of silent Akbar and Jeff (at least in their early days). The strips are a constant, running series of gags at the art world's expense, especially modern art. Some of the riffs are pretty obvious and surface-level in terms of their critique, like a modern art sculpture moved to a trash ban (ha ha). Some are silly, like the duo getting sick so their skin would turn the color of Lichenstein's dots, or pixellating a photo to make it look like a Seurat painting.

The best strips are the meanest, and by that I mean ones where they are cruel for absolutely no reason. There's a running gag where a little boy is trying to be their friend, and they cruelly reject him. In one, he makes some paper dolls to look like them and a smaller one to look like him. One of the men makes his own paper dolls that say "You have no talent". In another, they offer to give a blind man a tattoo of a peace sign (all done in pantomime, like in every strip), only to give him a tattoo of a swastika instead. Every now and then, their mischief-making backfires on them, but with no real repercussions one way or another. It's a fantasy built around a color scheme that's dense and almost lurid, with deceptively simple drawings. Vandenbroucke is out for a goofy, cruel fun time at the expense of the art world, and I think that self-imposed limitation actually lessens the book. The best strips frequently have nothing to do with the art world, about which he doesn't really seem to have anything interesting or original to say. He's a much better humorist when he concentrates on just how awful people can be.

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