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Leah Temple Lang / Gavel Media

The McMullen Museum: Fall Exhibitions and Events

Housed in a modern glass building in a quiet corner of Brighton Campus, the McMullen Museum opened its doors this fall with two new offerings: “American Alternative Comics, 1980-2000: Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond” and “Arnie Jarmak: Photographing Chelsea in Transition, 1977-89.” Focusing, respectively, on the advent and subsequent growth of comics as an art form and the enduring impact of a single photographer’s work in a changing urban environment, the exhibitions illuminate the ways art intertwines with culture and history.

“American Alternative Comics, 1980-2000: Raw, Weirdo, and Beyond” on the second floor of the museum traces the rise of the comic to mainstream consciousness by showcasing the production art of comic artists, three-dimensional models, printed publications, and brief videos. The exhibition approaches this through the production art and past issues of the comic anthologies Raw and Weirdo, comprising its first two sections. As introduced by placards placed throughout, Raw elevates comics to the public eye through experimenting with avant-garde techniques and incorporating astute political and social commentary. The publication navigates the often amorphous line between urban sophistication and what is deemed “low-culture,” encouraging readers to confront this disparity head-on. Spearheaded by artists Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, who worked together to edit and publish the anthology, Raw plays an instrumental role in pushing beyond the conventional notions of what comics are.

Equally influential was the anthology Weirdo, which took a comparatively outsider and self-critical approach in its works. Many of the artists who contributed to Weirdo served as voices for marginalized and neglected perspectives, such as Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s comic portrayals of her own life. Edited by Robert Crumb, Weirdo was similarly crucial in sculpting the cultural and artistic landscape that comics would consequently go on to develop and flourish in.

The last section of the exhibition centers on the progression of comics after the success of Raw and Weirdo, from the later years of the 20th century to the contemporary world of comics nowadays. Artists such as Alison Bechdel, Adrian Tomine, and Ho Che Anderson are featured prominently. Their displayed works are groundbreaking in their own ways while also being products of the foundation established in the 1970s and 1980s. More likely than not, viewers will bump into familiar faces and old friends in this section, such as the Simpsons. From one end of the gallery to the other, “American Alternative Comics” charts the transformation of comics from its early days to the cultural powerhouse it is now.

On the third floor is “Arnie Jarmak: Photographing Chelsea in Transition, 1977-89”, an intriguing presentation of black and white photography sprinkled throughout with historical insights. The pictures come from photojournalist Arnie Jarmak after he was hired in 1977 by the Chelsea Record, the city’s local newspaper. The subjects range from imposing buildings to ballot boxes to station wagons.

In walking around the city with his camera, Jarmak captured on film a metamorphosis as Chelsea’s demographics, traditions, and ways of life underwent drastic change. These echoed a larger cultural shift playing out across the country during the same time. From city officials to ordinary residents, Jarmak depicts nuanced subjects with simplicity and bluntness. Towards the back of the exhibition is a display called “Faces of Chelsea,” featuring portraits of different people from a multitude of backgrounds. In the course of photographing the city, Jarmak's focus shifted to its dynamic and human aspect. As the people of Chelsea acclimated to Jarmak’s presence and grew to accept him as part of the community, the photographic portraits reflected not only their tenacity and perseverance in confronting the changing city, but also their connection with Jarmak himself. As visual renderings of Chelsea’s cultural heritage, his work became more than just simple photographs.

In addition to a diverse array of Jarmak’s work, the exhibition also contains a camera belonging to Jarmak, contemporary newspapers offering historical context, and even an audio tour providing commentary from Jarmak. Together, these other mediums add dimension to Jarmak’s work, bringing 20th century Chelsea to vivid life.

Complementing the two exhibitions are a number of events and lectures hosted by the McMullen Museum. In particular, the museum hosted a talk with the artists Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly at the Robsham Theater on September 28th. Chelsea residents were also invited to see their hometown as portrayed through the lens of Arnie Jarmak on October 2. In addition, there will also be a variety of other activities, such as docent tours, crash courses on comics, and lectures about the history of cartoons. “American Alternative Comics” and “Arnie Jarmak” will both be showing until December 4; for any BC student interested in comics, history, art, or just a meaningful experience, make sure to stop by the McMullen Museum before then!

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