Under the Guillotine: James Gillray and Contemporary Counterparts 

December 18, 2015 – March 19, 2016

The Center for Visual Art, for the first time in its history, is presenting work that dates back more than two hundred years in Under the Guillotine: James Gillray and Contemporary Counterparts. Over 60 original hand-colored etchings will be shown from the collection of Arthur Gilbert, professor at the University of Denver. London artist James Gillray (1756 – 1815), hailed as the father of modern caricature, was not reserved in his biting critique of European politics and social norms of his day. In this work we see Gillray’s dark humor unleashed at the expense of the royal family, the institution of marriage and healthcare, among other current issues. 

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Although Gillray’s etchings date back over 200 years, the themes are familiar to contemporary society, highlighting the cyclical nature of history. In response to the ongoing relevance of Gillray’s subject matter, a contemporary take on political satire is presented by the work of three living artists, Molly Crabapple, Chris Dacre, and Deb Sokolow. These artists wield wit and irony in their critique of today’s political and social norms. 

Artists in the Exhibition

New York artist and writer Molly Crabapple is a contributing editor for VICE magazine. Her illustrations take a line from Gillray’s brand of satire, pointing out the ridiculous and unjust with irreverence. Illustrations in the exhibition draw from her press tour of Guantanamo Bay prison and other articles in VICE and Vanity Fair, in which she targets Donald Trump and ISIS. Crabapple’s memoir, Drawing Blood, will be released in December 2015. 

The work of Chris Dacre reflects upon his own experience in the US military. Shining a light on the hypocrisy of war glorification and recruiting techniques targeted at the naïve, Dacre’s toy-sized porcelain tanks and pirouetting soldiers beckon the curious to play at the game of war. His installation also includes lithographs depicting war scenes emblazoned with commands to “Be A Man!” or “Do Something for Once in Your Life,” sentiments felt if not heard once the game of war becomes reality. 

Chicago-based artist Deb Sokolow combines fiction and humor to create work that parallels real life events and characters. For this exhibition, Sokolow is contributing text-based works focused on the conspiracy theories swirling around Denver International Airport and the shady campaign strategy of a fictional politician.

The work of James Gillray was curated by Arthur Gilbert and CVA Managing Director and Curator Cecily Cullen. The contemporary response was curated by Cecily Cullen.


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Campbell Foundation Fund