Look it up in Your Gut

By Jane Mulfinger and Stephanie Washburn.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Andre Breton points out that humor is rare in the history of Western art, with notable exceptions in the work of artists such as Goya, Hogarth, and the barely contained neurosis of Seurat. Yet these anomalies pale against the wave of absurd and forceful images in Dada and Surrealism. Rising from the tragic and unlikely context of the European World Wars, Breton writes that, “In visual art we must consider the triumph of humor in its manifest state a much more recent phenomenon.” Indeed since then humor has played a persistent but also evolving role. Today’s artists must perhaps specifically negotiate the legacy of irony. This paper considers a selection of work by Dieter Roth, Hilja Keading, Vito Acconci, John Divola, and Kara Walker. Through their diverse images, we explore a kind of humor found nestled at the unlikely intersection of material reality and abstract thought. How does this humor operate? What are its concerns and intentions? And can it offer a release from the spent nihilism of postmodern practice?

Keywords: Humor, Irony, Informe, The Body, Materiality, Abstraction

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.109-118. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 959.374KB).

Jane Mulfinger

Professor and Chair, Department of Art, College of Creative Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, USA

Jane Mulfinger is an avid collector of human artifacts, engaging her public in both conceptual and perceptual reflections on the significances of human activity in site specific installations, performance, and sculpture. Used clothing, second-hand spectacles, found texts, and a collection of WPA drawings of Los Angeles straddle the expansive view of her archives. A graduate of Stanford University and the Royal College of Art, with Honors and Distinction respectively, her early work is recognized as addressing the relationship between architecture, memory, and the human body. Her most longstanding work, the Regrets series, is a growing collection of anonymous regrets, most recently sponsored by Microsoft Research and the University of Westminster, also featured at Ars Electronica, Linz.

Stephanie Washburn

Lecturer, Department of Art, College of Creative Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara, Ventura, USA

Stephanie Washburn works in various media including drawing, painting, photography, and video. Her recent projects explore the persistence of touch in the pictorial experience of both painterly and digitally derived images. She received her BA from Wesleyan University, Phi Beta Kappa, Cum Laude, and Honors; and her MFA from University of California at Santa Barbara, Regents Special Fellow. Her recent exhibitions include Mark Moore Gallery, Culver City, CA; the University Art Museum, Santa Barbara, CA; The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA; The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA; Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, CA; Los Angeles Municipal Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; and Davidson Art Center, Middletown, CT.