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Abstract Absurdist Marxism: The Comic Brothers Examined as Modern Art

A gallery exhibit explores Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo's influence on pioneering absurdist artists like Marcel Duchamp.

It could be surmised that Groucho and his brothers didn’t exactly embrace art and its varied ethos. That didn’t mean, however, that their contemporaries and generations of artists to follow weren’t influenced by the comedians' exceptional brand of wit, performance and way of looking at the complex social and political times in which they lived. If the glass was to be half empty, then humor could and would provide respite.

The exhibition “Marxism,” currently on view at New York's 303 Gallery, examines the oeuvre of the Marx Brothers through the lens of Marcel Duchamp, Jack Goldstein, Rodney Graham, Tim Lee, and Richard Prince—contemporary artists who have made work about, or relating to, the boisterous brothers.

Along with a selection of Marx Brothers’ ephemera, photographs and films, the exhibition includes work by these five artists; all considered rebels and mischief-makers in their respective mediums. Absurdist pioneer Marcel Duchamp – born in 1887, the same year as Chico – also encouraged people to think outside of the box using satire. In “L.H.O.O.Q.” - which loosely translates to “She has a hot ass” - this acronym is scrawled over a postcard of Mona Lisa. Her image is further “scandalized” as it is made masculine with a sketched-in goatee and moustache, perhaps exploring Sigmund Freud’s theory that the original artist Leonardo DaVinci was a homosexual.

In 1935 Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo appropriated the iconic MGM movie trailer–replacing the growling lion with their own faces, squeaking, beeping and honking. Following their lead, Jack Goldstein’s “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” also re-imagines the film clip, stripping away the studio’s logo and tinting the background. He’s kept the lion, but put its roar on a continuous loop in what could be a commentary on the absurdity of the film industry. These works reexamine and breathe new life into the performers' many cultural contributions.

"Marxism," while celebrating these venerable performers, also offers the art world—which has a tendency of taking itself too seriously—a little comic relief.

Image Courtesy of 303 Gallery

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