25 October 2018 – 3 March 2019
Standard Ticket - £14.00
Concessions - £11.00
Under 12s free
Good Grief, Charlie Brown! sees a colliding of the classic and the contemporary. The exhibit centres around eighty comics from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts, with twenty pieces from contemporary artists in response. The cartoon series Peanuts ran from 1950 until 2000, spanning through some of the most important political and social movements of the 20th century and the collection seeks to give its viewers an impression of its impact within these. Growing up in the UK and as a part of a generation that wasn’t exposed directly to Peanuts, it’s fascinating to see the extent to which this cartoon has become a part of, particularly American, cultural consciousness.
The collection starts with a narrative of Schulz’s life featuring personal mementos as well as an insight into his creative process but while it does give a great introduction the real magic appears as you walk upstairs. The collection is then brought to life, suddenly colourful and captivating; bright banners hang above your head “Snoopy for President” and “That’s Art!” they cry, posing implicit questions about the nature of the cartoon. We are lead through Peanuts’ relationship with themes and issues such as society and politics, existentialism, psychiatry, morality and feminism. Despite the whimsical front to this exhibit it is grappling with a few of the darker facets of humanity, this childhood delight becomes disturbed when you look underneath the surface.
Upstairs also sees the integration of contemporary work into the exhibit and it is genuinely exciting to see the different ways these artists have approached, reflected on and interpreted Schulz’s work. It has been translated into a huge breadth of other forms of media keeping each new piece compelling. It also gives the public opportunities to interact with the exhibit; it features a life-size mock up version of Lucy’s Psychiatric booth by Marcus Coates entitled Who Knows?,where you are invited to ask a question to the individual sat by it, as well as lightboxes from which you can trace out your own cartoons.
A particular highlight is Mel Brimfield’s Nuts: Episode 23: Remembrance of Things Past in which she has drawn a large black and white profile of herself. Within this are dozens of her portrait depicted into a Peanuts style cartoon form confessing their anxieties, this is a space where speech bubbles give way to a conversation with the self. Similar, speechless faces seem to float in the blackness, preoccupied with these thoughts, all of which revolve around a depiction of Lucy’s “psychiatric help” booth. It is pieces such as Brimfield’s that perfectly represent this sombre undertone.
The integration of different forms of media to the mix is a definite relief. It is a large collection and in a way, it does the exhibition favours: you’re able to be selective with what you give your energy to. On the other hand, however, the content begins to blur together at one point simply as a consequence of the sheer amount of it. Most particularly of Schulz’s cartoons, it feels impossible to read them all, one can’t help but feel inundated with masses of the simple line drawings. Despite this spending time with any one of them indicates just how expressive Schulz’s drawings are and provokes a renewed appreciation for cartoons as an art form. Somerset House have borrowed from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in California, this is the first exhibition in Europe museum that they have mounted, and there is something enchanting about being able to see Schulz’s work with your own eyes.
This is an exhibition which is evocative for its viewers, of any age. Somerset House have something special on their hands here, this exhibit speaks to the eternal child within us all, it is as fun as it is philosophical. It reaches out into the world and touches not only the current political climate but the individual and their sentiments, their neuroses. It is full of nostalgic, thought-provoking and meaningful work leaving you in awe of what a generally underappreciated art form, the cartoon, can do.