Art Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin and Snowy

Are comics fine art? A recent article in the International Herald Tribune covered how an art museum at the University of Nebraska—"a temple to high modernism," according to the article—dealt with a donation of 120 pieces of original comic strip art from a former chairman of the university's art history department: They put them on display. And the museum curator plans to exhibit the collection regularly, exploring "how this genre impacted and is impacted by the whole tradition of Western art."

In Japan, fine art and illustration are historically less divided. This ambiguity is perhaps what earned Tintin his first exhibition in Japan at the Bunkamura Museum. It is also perhaps the reason that the show avoids the issues addressed by the Nebraska museum and instead settles into simple product promotion.

Tintin is the globe-trotting Belgian reporter with the Kewpie hairstyle and the high-water pants (plus fours) well-loved by European kids and, apparently, Japanese women in their 20s. But Rube Goldberg, not JAL, plans his trips. Tintin, his white fox terrier Snowy, and a menagerie of characters—gruff Captain Haddock, absent-minded Cuthbert Calculus, and twin cops Thompson and Thomson—stumble from one incredible Indiana Jones misadventure to the next en route to discovering the mysteries of the Black Isle and the Blue Lotus.

Artist Georges Remi (1907-83), working under the pen-name Hergé, first created Tintin for the children's corner of the Belgian Catholic newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle in 1929. The subsequent 23 volumes of Tintin's adventures have been translated into 40 languages and made into videos, T-shirts and towels.

With specialty shops already open in Hiroo, Daikanyama, Harajuku and Odaiba, Tintin needs no introduction to Tokyo. So why hold this exhibition? To uncover how the "father of the modern European comic book" influenced generations of young artists with his rich colors and easy-reading storyboards? To dig into Hergé's portrayal of the complicated politics of WWII (e.g., in Tintin's journey to Japanese-occupied China in "The Blue Lotus") or of foreign cultures (Tintin's buffoonish, big-lipped black companion in the Congo)?

Bianca Castafiore

No, to treat Tintin as a matinee idol. Viewers enter the fictional character's adventures via poorly realized anthropology museum dioramas. A real Willy's jeep parked on a sand pile is just like the car that inspired the one Tintin drove in the desert adventure, "Land of Black Gold." A full-scale model of Tintin's shark submarine from "Tintin and the Lake of Sharks" is surrounded by watery blue lights and an old-fashioned diving suit. There's a moon rock next to a model of Tintin's moon rocket.

This show is really "The Mystery of the Magnetic Newsman." Why are young women but not manga fans attracted to Tintin? Is it the style, the color, the trips abroad? Tight-lipped Tintin, pictured here as an idealized young boy-husband, both son and lover (he's curiously absent from the full-scale rendition of his living room), offers no answer.

Tintin is undeniably a product. But Bunkamura ("culture village") is an art, not wax, museum. It's disappointing they didn't devote more space to how the Tintin books fit into the history of visual culture. As it is, the exhibition's best section has a series of panels tracing the production process, from rough sketches to black and white drawings and color proofs.

Tintin followed his reporter's nose for things unusual or out of place. He peeped, creeped and overheard. He unearthed enigmas and righted wrongs. His curiosity was the source, means and end of his adventures. He wasn't a traveling salesman.

Bunkamura Museum of Art
Until May 6. Shibuya stn, Hachiko exit. Tokyu Bunkamura, Dogenzaka 2-24-1. Daily 10am-7pm. Tel: 03-3477-9252. Adm: Adults ¥1,000, students ¥800, children ¥500.

Photo credit: © Hergé/Moulinsart 2002

B u y  i t  o n l i n e !
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449: Between Reality and Dreams: 19th Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum
448: Quobo: Art in Berlin 1989-99
447: Scandinavian Landscape Painting in the 19th Century
446: Peter Bellars: Par for the Course
445: Doug Aitken: New Ocean
444: Andrea Zittel: A-Z Garments Series
443: Sebastiao Salgado: Exodus
442: Dumb Type: Voyages
441: Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe
440: Jean-Marc Bustamante: Private Crossing
439: Joan Miro : 1918-1945
438: Modern Paintings of Mongolia
437: Manit Sriwanichpoom: Bangkok in Pink
436: French Drawings from the British Museum: From Fontainebleau to Versailles
435: Muneteru Ujino: Japan Series
434: Photography Today 2: Site/Sight
433: Rirkrit Tiravanija and Raymond Pettibon
432: Three Young Artists from Korea
431: Dynastic Heritage of Korea
430: Seoul Pop
429: Dreams & Goals
428: Since Godzilla
427: Yoshihiro Suda + Tetsuya Nakamura: Un Monde Revé de la Main
426: GA Houses Project 2002
425: Sesshu: 500th Anniversary
424: Luis Barragan: The Quiet Revolution
423: The Mori Arts Center/Young Video Artists Initiative
422: The Adventures of Tintin
421: Session - Super Eccentric of Japan's Warring States Period
420: Jorge Pardo
419: Artists Without Borders
418: Dennis Hollingsworth
417: Masterworks from the Prado Museum
416: JAM: Tokyo-London
415: Digital Beauties
414: Arika Someya
413: MOMAT
412: NW House
411: Mariko Mori
410: Sonia Delaunay
409: Buckminster Fuller
408: Wusheng Wang
407: Tokyo Architecture #2
406: Tokyo Architecture #1
405: The Art Ahead
404: Table Manners
403: Tom Sanford at Tomoya Saito Gallery
402: Nambanga: An Anthology of World Manga
401: Masterworks from MoMA
400: Spencer Tunick: Nude Adrift

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