Woven; Humour and Art in a Contemporary World

By Dean Frankling

Combining the concepts of humour and art is analogous, if you will, to the cartoon Tom and Jerry. They might appear separate in their employed roles in the world – cat chases mouse – mouse runs from cat – but when they come together with a similar goal in mind, they show how two opposites can work alongside each other despite their differences. Art and humour is in some ways the same; art is not always humorous, but that does not mean it cannot be humorous. That is where KNOCK KNOCK: HUMOUR IN CONTEMPORARY ART comes in – an exhibition on humour in art, leaving us to figure out (and hopefully answer) some questions about the role of humour in the world of art:

How and what makes us laugh in art?

When should we laugh at art?

Should we find art funny?

So let’s have a laugh. Let us take hold of humour, throw it at a blank canvas, and produce some humorous art!

Lichtenstein-Knock-Knock-960x640Roy Lichtenstein, Knock, Knock Poster, 1975

KNOCK KNOCK: HUMOUR IN CONTEMPORARY ART is an exhibition curated by SLG Director Margot Heller in collaboration with artist Ryan Gander. It features works by more than thirty artists, exploring humour that lies within, or on the face of contemporary art; asking what makes us laugh at art; how it makes us laugh; and why. So without further a due, Let’s get started …

How and what makes us laugh in art?

Is it the style of the art? Does something seem out of place? Is it art that doesn’t even look like art? Alastair Sooke explains how ‘Contemporary art is not normally celebrated for its capacity to make people laugh’ – she uses celebrated in its capacity to be intentionally funny, versus incidentally, and where the issue around humour in art becomes fragmented.

When looking at art, the individual may have to explore the undermining meaning; it may not be clear where the humour is until it starts to make sense; or perhaps it is simply funny. Caricature is an example of art that exaggerates or oversimplifies a subject from what it may originally look like, thus being humorous.

But back to the question ….

Since humour is an individual thing, not everyone will get it. Although humour can be found in anything, right? Beneath an artistic piece, whether it is a painting or a sculpture, or anything else, there is something that can make anyone laugh.  Take Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting for example; it is certainly not meant to be a humorous portrait, but has been parodied numerous times. Mona Lisa, with a mobile phone, sounds like contemporary art genius.

When is it okay to laugh at art?

Don’t worry! No one says there is a barrier to what you can or should laugh at. Although (here comes the catch) it can depend on the context; this is primarily to do with what can be considered art – an issue that remains complicated and controversial – and indeed within contemporary art.

Have you heard of Jackson Pollock? Barnett Newman? If not, then have you have looked at art and thought: “hold on, is this art?” If so, then this is when the context of art and its understanding is paramount. Consider abstract expressionism, an art movement that appeared after World War II:

8209284898_a5e7a3a441_bJackson Pollock’s Number 1 (Lavender Mist) 1950, photo by Detlef Schobert
Note: Artwork and photographer are not associated with the exhibition.

Abstract expressionism is the source of controversy; observed as an important movement in the history of art, while conversely being questioned on how the movements’ work can be considered art. The humour lies in its capacity to be considered art, and therefore is sometimes a source of humour when it is not meant to be. Above is one of Jackson Pollock’s signature drip style paintings, whose works have never been far from criticism in its

This is not to say you shouldn’t laugh at art, but rather, learn the context behind the art and its artist in order to appreciate it. But hey, if you can look at a Jackson Pollock painting and find the humour in his work, that’s great! An interpretation has no limits. Just be sure to learn about the artwork first, so you don’t look silly in front of art experts!

And lastly…

Should we find art funny?

In some ways we have already answered this question. But to put it simply, absolutely! Why should we not laugh at art? Humour has a place in everything – it is down to the individual to explore where the humour is and laugh at it with glee. But remember that old chestnut: anything can be considered art and therefore, any art can be humorous.

Now we got that out of the way, what are all the laughs about at the exhibition then? Breaking down what is humorous sounds like a short ticket to killing any joke. But don’t worry, we will tread carefully so as to not completely kill the joke…

Judith Hopf’s Flock of sheep (2017)

Knock-Knock-Installation-View-2-960x640Photo by Andy Stagg

It seems Judith Hopf has taken the literal description ‘flock of sheep’ and made it into an art piece, similar to how we might often confuse a sentence in the literal sense of its words. It might not have anyone rolling on the floor with laughter, but it certainly gets a chuckle, as we resonate with the butt of the joke.

She (2017) and KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN (2018) by Danielle Dean

Knock-Knock-Installation-View-1Photo by Andy Stagg

Danielle Dean’s work references the common warning sign applied to dangerous substances and objects that are harmful to young children. The baby mobile, a playful device that hovers above a child cot is, literally, in this installation, out of reach of children; a nice play on the words, but also, a play on what is actually a baby’s toy.

Black and White Mickey (2018) by  Joyce Pensato

Joyce-Pensato-Black-and-White-MickeyJoyce Pensato; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Mickey Mouse the cartoon character looks like a fun and jolly figure, but paint him on a blank canvas and you will get a completely different image. It has a dark setting, but it makes you laugh at how a cartoon figure can look so doom and gloom when it is made into art.

The Knock Knock Exhibition will certainly get some laughs and will allow contemporary art to be celebrated for its humorous undertones. Whether it is a dark version of Mickey Mouse or an unusual flock of sheep, art can creep its foot into any form of humour. But as said earlier, Mona Lisa with a mobile phone really is contemporary art genius.



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