Black Sphinx: On the Comedic in Modern Art

Black Sphinx: On the Comedic in Modern Art

ArtCenter College of Design

May 14, 2007
Black Sphinx: On the Comedic in Modern Art

Admission Free

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Blvd

LA, CA 90013

Corner of Westwood and Wilshire –

Parking available under the museum

information: 310 443 7000

seating is first come first served


Michael Smith as Baby IKKI (c. 1982), photo Kevin Noble

The 4th SoCCAS symposium, programmed by the Southern California Consortium of Art Schools with the Hammer Museum, borrows its title from Surrealist kingpin, André Breton who referred to dark comedy as a kind of black sphinx while assembling his famous anthology of noirist humor. This hue and others will be taken up by a wide spectrum of artists and writers who have consorted with comedy.

Following an introduction by SoCCAS chair John C. Welchman (UCSD), Philosopher, Simon Critchley (New School for Social Research, NY and University of Essex, UK) and art historian Janet Whitmore will discuss the modern origins of comedic genres and some of the key theoretical articulations of laughter and wit—by Freud, Bergson and others—and the special zone of outlandish humor demarcated by the cabarets, café concerts and ephemeral publications of Montmartre in the 1880s and 90s. Video, performance and installation artist Michael Smith reflects on his hilariously awkward and regressive journeys with alter persona “Mike” and others. John Baldessari, one of the fountainheads for the new permissibility of humor in art in the 1960s as the hegemonies of modernist seriousness withered away, talks about comedic strategies (and happy accidents) with fellow funny artist, Meg Cranston. Artist and writer David Robbins reports on his decade long investigation into the comedy in objects. The day concludes with a panel on Women’s Laughter” with artist Andrea Fraser (UCLA), performer, playwright and former V-Girl, Jessica Chalmers, and writer and curator, Jo Anna Issak, who will discuss the relation between comedy and gender.


10.00 Welcome and Thanks

10.15 am John C. Welchman,


10.30 Simon Critchley

Humor Noir

11.30 to 12.30 Michael Smith


12.30 pm to 1.30 pm lunch

1.30 to 2.15 Janet Whitmore

Irreverent, Illicit, Incendiary: Belle Epoch Comedy

2.15 to 3.15 John Baldessari and Meg Cranston in conversation

3.15 to 3.30 Coffee

3.30 to 4.30 David Robbins

Concrete Comedy

4.30 to 5.30 Panel: Women’s Laughter

Andrea Fraser, Jo Anna Isaak, Jessica Chalmers

Generous support for this event has been provided by the art departments of the SoCCAS

member schools (Art Center, Otis, UCI, UCLA, UCSB, UCSD, USC) and by the University of

California Institute for Research in the Arts, and the Center for the Humanities, UCSD.


Related Sphinx Events at the Hammer

Live Sphinx: An Evening of Stand-Up Comedy

May 21 (Monday), 2007, 7.00 pm

Video Sphinx: An Evening of Funny Films, 7 pm

May 29 (Tuesday), 2007


The SoCCAS book series is edited by John C. Welchman and published by JRP|Ringier

Volume 1 Recent Pasts: Art in Southern California from the 1990s to Now (2005)

Volume 2 Institutional Critique and After (2006)

Volume 3 The Aesthetics of Risk (2007)

Volume 4 Black Sphinx: On the Comedic in Modern Art (2008)

Volume 5 Art School Book (2009)


SoCCAS was launched in 2003 as an originator of symposia, lectures, student interchange, publications and collaborations between the graduate programs of Art Center, CalArts, Claremont, Otis, UCI, UCLA, UCSB, UCSD and USC, the international art community and the general public.

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ArtCenter College of Design
May 14, 2007

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