Oddity and Wit

June 7th, 2019 – August 25th, 2019

Arthur Lismer (Canadian, b. England, 1885 – 1969), Temperature Chart, 1928, conte on paper, laid down, Gift of Isabel McLaughlin, 1989.

Artworks can make you look twice, scratch your head, or maybe chuckle. There are a number of works in the RMG’s collection of over 4,700 artworks that do just that; whether intentionally funny, a play on words in the title, or just plain odd, this exhibition explores a selection of humorous works.
Humour and art have a lot in common. Both can question or poke fun at the status quo, and both have strong persuasive power and the ability to engage with socio-political commentaries in an accessible way. Historically, humour has long existed in art in a nuanced form, but the art movements that placed humour at the forefront were Dadaism and Surrealism. Dada artists such as Marcel Duchamp used humour and absurdity to comment on the institution of art and the role of the artist in society. Similarly, in this exhibition, Donna Ibing’s Be an Artist Board Game makes light of the many challenges facing professional artists today. Surrealism took an approach to humour with a more bizarre and irrational tone, focusing on the subconscious, absurd and strange. An example of this type of approach is found in the print Down to the Corner Store for a Loaf of Bread by Kerry Joe Kelly, a self-described surrealist, who depicts a man smiling with an armful of feet.

Art does not always have to be serious–it can change your perspective in a light or amusing way. At their core both art and humour offer an escape from the weight of life, and this exhibition shows the many ways that art can use humour to engage viewers and provide respite from the everyday.