PRINT Summer 2014

Ida Applebroog

Ida Applebroog, Independence Plaza, 1980, ink and Rhoplex on vellum. Installation view, Printed Matter, New York.

EQUATING COMICS with “high art” is not as odd as it may sound. Both deal with the abstract transformation of information into another form without a fixed set of rules. And there has always, in fact, been a connection between the two—think of George Grosz, Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, and, best of all, Marcel Duchamp. Of course, Duchamp’s iconic Fountain, 1917, was signed “R. Mutt”—a name derived from the popular comic strip Mutt and Jeff. The urinal, an unexpectedly beautiful art object, provoked the question: If it’s funny, can it be art?

For me, making this kind of art is crucial. As with comics, my work is a microcosm of the world we live in. I raise issues of politics and gender in a seemingly nonthreatening way, subverting traditional subject positions. For instance, I use generic faces, without linear narrative—there is no beginning or end. A viewer enters in the middle. It’s a do-it-yourself Rorschach.

Trained in graphic design in the 1950s, I learned to get a message across fast. I was influenced by a range of sources, including Francisco de Goya, Käthe Kollwitz, John Heartfield, Samuel Beckett, and the graphic novels of Lynd Ward. In the ’70s, my style came out of Minimalism, Conceptual art, book art, performance, activism, and feminism—movements that tried to make art ordinary. My work at the time included stagings of minimalist cartoon storyboards, which became more and more multilayered and multipaneled. In 1980, Lucy Lippard asked me to make an installation for the Printed Matter storefront in New York (then on Lispenard Street in TriBeCa) as part of a curated series of window exhibitions. I placed two panels in the windows; one featured an elderly man who was watching a couple getting ready for bed, pictured in the next window. The presentation itself was enigmatic, but the street-level installation forced viewers to become involved in a more complex way of seeing than that of the usual, passive, window-shopping spectator. As a viewer unwittingly came upon the piece, the element of surprise intensified the humor in the work.

Ida Applebroog is an artist based in New York.