Stills from Harold Lloyd's Saftey Last (1923) and Gordon Matta-Clark's Clockshower (1973)

Low comedy meets high art at Slapstick!

A new exhibition at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg pairs Laurel and Hardy with Fischli and Weiss

We might view the high-brow pleasures of the art gallery and the base humour of slapstick comedy as being at opposite ends of the entertainment world. Nevertheless, we can all think of parallels too: Steve McQueen's Turner-Prize winning film Deadpan (1997) recreates the collapsing house scene from Buster Keaton's 1928 film Steamboat Bill, Jr; Gordon Matta Clark Clockshower (1973) - wherein the artist hangs from the hands of the Clocktower Building in New York - reminds us of an earlier stunt in Harold Lloyd's Safety Last (1923); Alexej Koschkarow's famous 2003 pie fight, or Tortenschlacht could have served as a dress rehearsal for any number of silent-era comedies.


Still from  Alexej Koschkarow's Pie Fight (2003)
Still from Alexej Koschkarow's Pie Fight (2003)

A forthcoming exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg picks up on these commonalities. Slapstick! (20 July - 2 February) pairs contemporary works by John Bock, Rodney Graham, Wilfredo Prieto, Timm Ulrichs, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Bruce Nauman and Francis Alys with earlier scenes from the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy.


The Way Things Go

The gallery argues that “artists have long been on the heels of the great comic masters and taken advantage of the cultural codes of the slapstick.” They cite  Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto's Grasa, Jabón y Plátano or Grease, Soap and Banana (2006) – simply a small pile of these three slippery substances on a gallery floor – as well as Szymon Kobylarz's fairly self explanatory Nose Punch Machine (2007), as just two non-video examples of slapstick art.


Pietro Jabon, y Platano (2006) by Wilfredo Prieto
Pietro Jabon, y Platano (2006) by Wilfredo Prieto

Whether a fan of early Hollywood or contemporary art enthusiast, its hard not to appreciate the similarities, when presented alongside each other. The works are often simple, viscerally effective, and limited, in terms of technical scope and duration.


Nose Punch Machine (2007) by Szymon Kobylarz
Nose Punch Machine (2007) by Szymon Kobylarz

To find out more about Slapstick!, go here. For more on Gordon Matta Clark's wide and varied work, please look at our great monograph, and for greater insight into Fischli and Weiss's work, also please consider our equally magisterial overview, both available in the Phaidon Store.

Steve McQueen Deadpan 1997 by Gavrochek