Press Release

Rude Britannia: British Comic Art

Wednesday 9 June – Sunday 5 September 2010

This summer, Tate Britain is collaborating with a host of comic talent to present Rude Britannia: British Comic Art, a ground-breaking exhibition about the role of humour in British visual culture. Through a great diversity of art forms – including painting, drawing, sculpture, film and photography – comedy, the comic, and visual humour are explored in their many dimensions. Some of the country’s best-known cartoonists and comedy writers including Steve Bell, Harry Hill, Gerald Scarfe, and the team at Viz Magazine have collaborated with Tate’s curators to help present the exhibition. Their expertise and opinion offer visitors a fresh take on comic traditions from the 1600s to the present day, and encourage debate around the wider role of humour in British life.

Drawing on material far beyond the traditional realm of visual satire, Rude Britannia brings together sculptures, installations and performances. Works by contemporary artists such as Angus Fairhurst are contrasted with key historical pieces by Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Radio, film and new media play a part in the show, reflecting how technological developments have consistently reinvigorated the genre and engaged new audiences.

Rude Britannia focuses on a group of key topics, devised in collaboration with the guest curators. Gerald Scarfe has designed the section about political satire, adding to the caricatures of figures from Fox and Pitt to Thatcher and Blair with large-scale wall-paintings and installations and a display showing how his political cartoons are conceived and developed. Harry Hill has collaborated on a section devoted to the absurd, selecting works from Heath Robinson to David Shrigley, creating a cinema of the absurd for video art and adding his own comic interventions to the space.

Guardian cartoonist, Steve Bell has created an interpretation of Cruikshank’s Worship of Bacchus which takes the form of an annotated viewing platform to stand next to the epic painting. Meanwhile, Viz Magazine have contributed to the social satire section of the show, installing a giant Viz Comic and alternative captions from their cult comic character Roger Mellie ( ‘The Man on the Telly’) for each of the historic and contemporary works. There is also be a section devoted to all things bawdy where Donald McGill’s saucy seaside postcards are shown alongside works by Aubrey Beardsley and Sarah Lucas. Together these show the wide variety of ways in which Britain’s thriving tradition of comic art has taken shape, and the links between comic practices of the past and present.

Harry Hill said:

I love comedy and I love art. The absurd is my area of expertise and it will be good to get the disparate strands under one roof, from John Tenniel to Heath Robinson to David Shrigley, plus a few surprises on the way. We have all laughed at art for one reason or the other, this time it will be for the right reasons! It is a thrill to be asked to contribute to this Tate Britain show.

Martin Myrone, Curator of 18th & 19th Century British Art, Tate Britain said:

The comic has always been thought of as a key aspect of British culture, but while other exhibitions have looked at the classic story of graphic satire, Rude Britannia will offer a much bigger picture. The result should be a rich, exciting, and sometimes challenging, new vision of British art.

Celebrating the vivid history of comical images, the exhibition asks some provocative questions about humour in the visual arts. Rude Britannia explores these and other complex issues, reflecting the way that changing social attitudes and identity politics have always played an important role in both comedy and art history.

Rude Britannia is curated by Martin Myrone, Curator of 18th & 19th Century British Art, Tate Britain; Cedar Lewisohn, Programmer for Tate Media; and Tim Batchelor, Assistant Curator, Tate Britain. The exhibition is also be accompanied by an illustrated book produced by Tate Publishing.