Where is Snoopy? He is in London at Somerset House!
How did Snoopy get there, you ask? As you may recall from my previous post on February 20, 2018, Somerset House (located on the south side of the Strand in central London) is hosting an exhibition in partnership with the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
The exhibition, Good Grief, Charlie Brown!, showcases original Peanuts comic strips and Schulz memorabilia from the Schulz Museum and from British collectors, alongside contributions from 20 contemporary artists whose work has been inspired by Peanuts.
When I saw the exhibition space in January, it looked “anti-museum,” by that I mean it had no classic rooms or even a large space that would lend itself to temporary walls. Rather, it was more akin to a long cylinder, with some side “pockets.”
As Claire Catterall, exhibition curator, first described her vision, I had to admit that I didn’t see it.
But now, stepping into the exhibition I had a completely different opinion. The space makes the museum offerings feel more interesting, as though you are an explorer stepping through the history rather than just reading about it.
Claire Catterall said she was intrigued by the way Peanuts references were showing up in the work of young artists she saw. Her exploration was the germ of an idea that brought her to Santa Rosa to our Museum to explore the possibility of a joint exhibition. I am very glad she did. As I said in the foreword to the exhibition catalog, Sparky would be very pleased to have this exhibition in a building with such a rich history.
While I won’t go into detail about all of the contemporary artists featured in the exhibition, here are a few works that I found particularly interesting.
Sound artist and composer Mira Calix grew up identifying with Lucy but then realized she was fascinated by the way the strip made the musical notation a character of its own. She created a performance piece to be filmed in the exhibition. In creating the piece, Calix realized her obsession, like Schroeder’s, is in practicing her craft.
Here I am with Mira Calix in her zigzag striped dress—an homage to Charlie Brown. The Charlie Brown-inspired character seen behind Mira Calix and me is Lil Cloudy Brown, which is in the entrance to Somerset House. The character lightbox and cloud wall paper is the artwork of artist duo FriendsWithYou, one of the seven artists included in the Peanuts Global Artist Collective.
One of the popular installations in Good Grief, Charlie Brown! is Marcus Coates’ performance piece, Who Knows?, which allows visitors to be a part of the Peanuts Gang’s endlessly replayed interactions. Coates has built a version of Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth inviting visitors to ask the life questions they can’t find the answers for. Coates writes, “I want to recognise and celebrate the role of a wide range of people, some professional, others not, but with a breadth of life experience to offer.”
I noticed that Coates has “Hairdresser” listed, and I hope that designation includes “Barber” also, for I am sure that Charlie Brown’s father, like Sparky’s father, Carl Schulz, served as an empathetic listener to his customers. And, as we all know, listening goes a long way in helping others.
Andy Holden’s work, Oh! My friends there is no friend, in which I spent at least 20 minutes watching from one of the comfortable cots, is a four-screen digital film installation. Melancholic Charlie Brown is in the first panel; the second panel is a collage of “friendship” clips from Hollywood movies; the third panel is comprised of clips from Holden’s band the Grubby Mitts on their last tour; and the fourth panel shows continuous scenes of a friend’s bedroom which has a lifetime collection of Peanuts toys and merchandise.
After the opening of the exhibition, Andy Holden and I (with Claire Caterall moderating) held a “conversation” in their 50-person auditorium. Andy talked about how the zigzag—as in a brain wave; as in Charlie Brown’s shirt—was discovered on a rock dating back to earliest man as the first markings made by humanoids.
You can learn more about all of the contributing artists on Somerset House’s website.
Charles Schulz took his ideas from everything he read, saw, and experienced. Anything that came across his life became fodder for the comic strip, but his unique talent was to create a surprise twist that pleased his readers and kept them returning.
The wonderful surprise of this exhibition is the contributions from the many artists who have been moved by Peanuts in so many different ways. I am sure Sparky would have been deeply touched that his work has resonated so widely and in such a personal way.
Good Grief, Charlie Brown! is on view at Somerset House now through March 3, 2019.
Claire Catterall and I were interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today program very early on the Thursday morning that the show opened. I didn’t mind getting up early because this is a station that all my British relatives listen to. Our interview was cut a little short because we were preceded by an interview with John McDonnell, Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (pictured below). Of course, that discussion of Brexit maneuvers ran long, and Charlie Brown got the leftover time.