ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT ARTS & CULTURE Carolina A. Miranda

Prankster 'White Cube' comic gleefully dismembers the art world

Marina Abramovic levitates, Picasso gets squeegeed and Michelangelo's David gets a pedicure in art world comic
A comic by Belgian illustrator Brecht Vandenbroucke riffs on art world inanities

Marina Abramovic levitates in her chair and then her eyes pop out of her head. A male figure squeegees the images off of Pablo Picasso's "Guernica," leaving a mess of black-and-white paint. A pair of pranksters give the toenails of Michelangelo's "David" a bright red sheen. 

"White Cube" by Belgian artist and illustrator Brecht Vandenbroucke is not your average comic book. For one, each of the largely wordless stories is painted in acrylic, not drawn and inked in the traditional comics style.

Plus there's the theme: each of the book's short pieces — most are just a single page — are entirely about a pair of pink, bald hellions whose main purpose in life is to wreak havoc in galleries and museums. Hence the title "White Cube," the slang term for today's brightly minimalist exhibition spaces (as well as the blue-chip gallery of the same name in London).

Vandenbroucke says that in his comic, published this year in the U.S., he was interested in puncturing the sanctity of the art industry's favorite gathering space.

"Galleries are like these dream places," he explains. "The idea is that you go into this white-walled space to have a so-called 'objective' art experience. But it's all so strange. There are all of these rules in it. You have to be silent. It demands respect. It's a sacred place, but also a place of authority." He adds: "I wanted to bring some humor to it."

Vandenbroucke went to art school in his native Belgium and currently works as an illustrator for a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times and Wired in the U.S. 

"White Cube" began life as a black-and-white zine. "But once I started painting more, I realized that I could do more with it," he says, "and that I could convey the artistic works better."

At that point, the "White Cube" series began to make a recurring appearance on his blog.

Certainly, the narrative in all of these works is quite slim: a pair of cartoonish male figures unleash Katzenjammer Kids-style pranks with and around priceless works of art. "They're very juvenile and quite anarchistic," says Vandenbroucke.

And in their actions, they convey the everyone-has-an-opinion moment we are living in. In one canvas, for example, the duo paint a Facebook "Like" thumb on Fernand Léger's "Three Women."

But the book is at its best when Vandenbroucke is simply doing some painterly riffing on art history, such as the panel that shows a dripping, pixelated version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream," or the two-page spread that captures a lush, Henri Rousseau-esque landscape stuffed with everything from Beavis and Butt-head to elements from Edouard Manet's "Dejeuner sur l'herbe."

Those outside the art industry may find some of the panels puzzling, since the gags can be quite inside baseball. But if you've ever been filled with the urge to vandalize the austerity of the white cube with some total ridiculosity, then this is the book for you.

"White Cube" ($21.95) by Brecht Vandenbroucke is published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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