Charles Addams' Original 'Addams Family' Work Featured at Museum of City of NY

Works of art-from the delightful and macabre to the utterly surreal-by celebrated New York City cartoonist Charles Addams (1912-1988), will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from March 4 through May 16, 2010.

Charles Addams's New York will reveal the breadth of this artist's comic vision, which went far beyond the hilarious family of ghouls that bear his name and for whom he may be best known. The more than 80 drawings, cartoons, sketches, watercolors, and pencil sketches-published and unpublished, black and white and in color-as well as examples of the artist's personal ephemera on view, will demonstrate the inspiration Addams derived from New York City as well as his singular approach to the city's visual and imaginative possibilities. One of the leading humorists of the 20th century, Addams portrayed New York as a comic underworld populated with characteristic New Yorkers who interacted with monsters, creepy creatures, offbeat people, and other hapless inhabitants, all depicted in unusual situations. A highlight of the exhibition will be a section on the particularly ghoulish characters later dubbed "the Addams Family," who moved through his pseudo-city in mischievous and deliciously deviant ways.

"We take special pride in exhibiting the work of Charles Addams," commented Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York.
"This Museum mounted the artist's first solo exhibition in 1956, and in the early sixties Addams donated 72 original drawings-finished cartoons and preliminary sketches-to the Museum's collections."

Charles Samuel Addams sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1933, and he made drawings for the magazine, and many others, for more than a half century. Interestingly, he published hundreds of drawings and cartoons well before the comic dark characters now known as "The Addams Family" crept into his work; of the 3,000 pictures he made in his lifetime, only about 250 depict the ghoulish household. The Manhattan skyline, the East River, the city's buildings large and small, and other features of New York's built and natural environment all became the settings for the unnatural situations Addams concocted. His work is characterized by the juxtaposition of the real and the surreal: the torch of the Statue of Liberty rising above the flood waters beside Noah's ark; a leafy green "city as topiary shrub"; a tiny 19th century walk-up becoming a dollhouse when dwarfed by 20th century towers; a giant hand protruding from a subway entrance, one finger beckoning a startled pedestrian to enter. The artist's city-dwellers are also simultaneously ordinary yet surreal: an "invisible man" nestles on the subway between other passengers who are aware of his presence because he is reading a newspaper; a man walks a dog whose face exactly matches his own; a visitor to the Hayden Planetarium transforms into a demon and back again as the moon waxes and wanes in the sky show.

Addams's New Yorkers eat in restaurants, shop in stores, go to work, and take walks in the park, where they encounter the unexpected or otherworldly. A Godzilla-like squirrel in the park hides behind a sign advising passers-by: "PLEASE DON'T FEED THE SQUIRRELS." A sweet and tiny valentine is slipped under a massive door bolted with floor-to-ceiling heavy-duty locks. An executive considers a never-ending office hallway stretching to infinity behind a set of elevator doors. The artist also employed such iconic "types" as the society matron and the corporate executive in his work. A series of his cartoons are based on a street peddler selling mass-produced, mechanical businessmen, each identical, carrying an attaché case, each with a wind-up key in their back, sticking out like a knife. Collectively the work of Charles Addams lampoons-with affection that shines through the art-the values, social mores, habits, and rituals that seem central to life in New York City.
During his lifetime, Charles Addams published 10 anthologies of drawings, two books, and worked as an illustrator, curator, and writer. His funny family of ghouls found their way into a prime-time television sitcom, a television cartoon series, and numerous blockbuster movies. This year, The Addams Family, a new musical, will make its Broadway debut in April.

The Museum plans special events and public programs related to Charles Addams's New York; please visit for updated information.

Charles Addams's New York is made possible with the generous support of Melvin R. Seiden, the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, a new musical.

Charles Addams's New York is curated by Sarah Henry, Chief Curator of the Museum of the City of New York, with the assistance of Kevin Miserocchi, Executive Director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

The Museum of the City of New York presents and interprets the past, present, and future of New York City and celebrates its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. Founded in 1923 as a private, non-profit corporation, the Museum serves the people of New York and visitors from across the country and around the world through exhibitions, collections, publications, and school and public programs. Exhibitions on other graphic artists, including Saul Steinberg's New York, have garnered praise from the press and the public alike.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St.
New York, NY 10029
212.534.1672 Phone
212.423.0758 Fax E-mail

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