If you can manage to pull yourself away from the European paintings and swing a quick left at the top of the main staircase at the Met you will be met with a punchy blue wall, the opening of the Infinite Jest exhibition. The first work facing the front of the exhibition is a drawing by Francois-Andre Vincent of his fellow artist Pierre- Charles Jombert. Just like a boardwalk caricature, the subject has comically large hands, a small head and is drawn so tall, the artist had to use two sheets of paper tacked together!
The exhibition is broken down into various sections such as: crowds, eating and drinking, gambling, the art world and a large section is on fashion.
The show has some earlier and later works mixed in with a nice emphasis on some from the long 18th century. They include sassy depictions of politicians, ladies and common class figures. The section on Crowds focuses on the issue of crowd control in 18th century England.
The theatre is where crowds become quickly out of control, particularly for the working class. To get into the building it is crowded. There is no space, no where to move except along with the crowd, pressed between bodies and moving with the aggravated flow.
Thomas Rowlandson, Exhibition "Stare" Case. Etching, hand colored, 1811. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A print by Thomas Rowlandson called Theodore Lane provides a further look into the life of the crowd after they reach the theatre doors; nothing changes once inside. As families try to reserve seats for each other, scuffles may break out and there are still people passing out or getting sick. A pleasant night indeed
Another work you may be familiar with is Rowlandson's Exhibition 'Stare' Case. Visitors to the Royal Academy's annual exhibition tumble down the steep staircase in a crowd (of course)and skirts go flying and bodices give way! Ladies fall scandalously on men while other eyes fall scandalously on the ladies. Many visitors stop to stare because there is just so much to see. Who needs to see the actual art work when the nudes are downstairs?
After Crowds is a section on Eating and Drinking. My favorite piece from this section was Charlet Nicolas-Toussaint's Entry or Lord Fat Cheeks and Exit, or Lord the Gob. The man enters the gambling hall very well put together but after a long night he leaves dishevelled and marked with misfortune. Very much like the character Felix from the BBC adaptation of The Way We Live Now.
Each print in the fashion section is a funny statement on both ladies' and gentleman's fashion. There are some works that poke fun at the French dandies of the 18th century, and of course ladies' hair. There are some that focus on the exaggerated shapes (shoulders, bustles) women began wearing during the reign of Victoria as well. My favorite work from this section is Le Triomphe de la coquetterie, which you could stand in front of for a very long time taking in all the ridiculousness portrayed... Check out the details (click to enlarge).
As I said before, men were not excused from caricatures of fashion offenders. With his hair dressed so large, Baron de Caprice has a bit of trouble when he calls on Mlle Favors. His hair has prevented him from entering the lady's home, and he has to wait while the door frame is expanded (by chisel and hammer!).
The catalogue is now available: Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine
The exhibition is on until March, and if you have seen it or stop by, please let us know what you thought in the comments section!
If you know you cannot make it to the exhibition in person, check out the online version here.
Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet, Entry, or Lord Fat Cheeks. (Entrée, ou Milord-Gorju). Lithograph, 1820-22. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet, Exit, or Lord the Gob (Sortie, ou Milord-la Gob). Lithograph, 1820-22.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.