Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature. Neil McWilliam, ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. 86 pp.
What a hoot this is! Illustrated in color and black and white, Lines of Attack is a catalogue of an exhibition of journalistic caricature as a medium of political commentary held at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art in the first half of 2010. I only wish I’d seen that display. Dick Cheney and former President George Bush (the younger), both widely represented here, can be glad they didn’t.
McWilliam, who teaches art and art history at Duke, along with several student contributors from Duke and the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, range widely over two specific periods of graphic political expression to demonstrate that while artistic methods and techniques change, some of the basic visual “skewering” process remains much the same. Leaders have always been ridiculed in a variety of ways, some more obvious and blatant than others.
The first period is 1830s France and the “July Monarchy” of Louis Philippe, while the second is 170 years later—the early-twenty-first-century administration of the younger President Bush. Both held power for eight years.
As the introduction makes clear, the purpose of the exhibit and this catalogue is political, but it is not intended to be partisan. Sections of the exhibition catalogue look at comic critique of bodies (chiefly those of Philippe and Bush), the changing face of caricature between the two periods, primitivism and portrayals of the Bush presidency, and censorship of political caricature in both periods of time.
The number of times political “cartoons” are takeoffs on famous pieces of high art is one point clearly made.
The art forms include sculpture as well as works of various modes on paper. Former President Bill Clinton also appears here and there as a kind of political balance. Some of the images are damning, others worth a funny glance. Insightful text blocks tie it all together.
CHRISTOPHER H. STERLING
George Washington University