Campus & Community

Avant-gardists grace Carpenter Center series:

5 min read

By Ken Gewertz

It used to be that people who wanted their kids to grow up into cultured, educated adults made sharp distinctions between good and bad forms of artistic endeavor.

Rock ‘n’ roll was bad, Mozart and Tchaikovsky were good. Comic books were bad, Shakespeare and Dickens were good. If you consumed only “good” art, your mind would expand, intelligence and taste would infuse your thoughts, and you would be welcomed, nay, eagerly sought after, by the best society. If, on the other hand, you succumbed to “bad art,” you would become a drooling degenerate and end up with your mug on a wanted poster.

It turns out we were wrong. Since at least as far back as the 1960s, artists and critics have been breaking down those distinctions. Today, in a world where academics publish studies of Elvis Presley and Madonna, and original “cells” from Mickey Mouse cartoons fetch six figures at Sotheby’s, not many are quick to draw value judgments between “high” and “low” art.

The artistic playing field is thoroughly leveled now, and there is no better way to learn the lay of the land than by attending the fall lecture series at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. The scheduled speakers include a conceptual artist whose name is forever linked with one of the 20th century’s most famous rock stars, a young British painter and critic whose exuberant work eschews all pretense and solemnity, and a cartoonist whose daring decision to tell the story of the Holocaust in the visual language of Pogo and Krazy Kat won him a Pulitzer Prize.

“The lectures are meant to compliment the work of our own students and faculty,” said Carpenter Center director Marjorie Garber. “They’re not just one-shot events; they’re a set of conversations. These are very exciting people who are able to talk about art from the inside out.”

The Carpenter Center lectures are a long-running and distinguished series, Garber pointed out. “We’re trying to live up to it.”

“An Evening With Yoko Ono” leads off the series on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m. An artist who has explored many media, Ono was one of the originators of conceptual art. Indeed, her romance with John Lennon reportedly began in 1966 at her installation in a London gallery when Lennon climbed a ladder to read a tiny placard on the ceiling containing the single word “yes.”

Ono’s works include musical compositions, performance pieces, films, books, and installations. Her talk is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Yes Yoko Ono,” on view Oct. 18 to Jan. 6, 2002, at the List Visual Arts Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and organized by the Japan Society of New York.

Bruce Jenkins, curator of the Harvard Film Archive, who was instrumental in bringing Ono to the Carpenter Center, calls her “one of the finest artists of her generation and one of the finest living artists.”

Jenkins, who thinks the time is right for a reconsideration of the range and quality of Ono’s work, said that, ironically, Ono’s “celebrity has obscured the fact that she is an enormously gifted and accomplished artist and far more than the partner and wife of John Lennon. Her work not only predates that relationship, but an extraordinary amount of art postdates it too. She’s still doing extremely good work.”

Martin Maloney, who joins the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) this year as a visiting faculty member, has had an extremely active career as a painter, critic, lecturer, and curator since his graduation in 1993 from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Maloney has exhibited his work in the Gagosian Gallery in New York, the Saatchi Gallery in London, and many others. As a curator, he has championed the work of other young artists, producing exhibitions with titles like “Die Young Stay Pretty” and “Death to the Fascist Insect That Preys on the Life of the People.” He has written for magazines such as Flash Art and Artforum and is a regular contributor to arts discussion programs on BBC radio. His lecture, “Wanted: New Premises for Painting,” will take place Nov. 15.

Art Spiegelman, the creator of “Maus: My Father Bleeds History” (Pantheon Books, 1986) and “Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began” (Pantheon Books, 1991), will visit the Carpenter Center on Dec. 6 to deliver a lecture titled “Comix 101: Some Notes on the History and Evolution of Comic Art.”

Spiegelman, a “crossover” artist whose intricate and nuanced tale of a Holocaust survivor is told in the form of an extended cartoon novel, has attracted numerous readers who are not ordinarily consumers of comic book art. The book portrays Jews as mice and Germans as cats, although both have human bodies and inhabit an otherwise realistic world.

Comparative Literature Professor Susan Suleiman, who teaches “Maus” in her course “The Holocaust and Problems of Representation,” calls the book “brilliant and wonderfully original” and “an instant classic” that “pushes the boundaries of how one narrates the Holocaust.”

Tickets to “An Evening with Yoko Ono” are free and available to individuals with a Harvard ID, from Oct. 11 to the 21, through the Harvard Box Office in the Holyoke Center, (617) 496-2222. Tickets to the Spiegelman lecture are available on the same basis from Nov. 26 to Dec. 6. Martin Maloney’s talk is open to the general public, tickets not required. All talks will take place in the Carpenter Center Lecture Hall. For further information call (617) 495-3251 or visit

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