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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Thierry Groensteen - "Bande dessinée et art moderne: du divorce à la reconciliation?"

Presentation at the Huberty & Breyne Gallery, Brussels, Belgium. December 12, 2022



The spacious Huberty and Breyne gallery in Brussels played host to the first in what appears to be a cycle of conferences focusing on the relationship between comics and Art with an inaugural talk by noted French comics scholar Thierry Groensteen. Though the publicity for the event promoted a presentation titled "Are Comics Art?" (as seen in the poster above in its original French language version), Groensteen went in a slightly different but still related direction with a presentation titled "Comics and Modern Art: from divorce to reconciliation?"

In a talk that lasted just under one hour, Groensteen laid out a progression of anecdotes, observations and examples to evoke what he saw as challenges associated with situating comics within an arts and media landscape. From Groensteen's perspective, the historical progression of the cultural legitimation of comics - especially in France - has benefited from the notion that comics sit at the crossroads of the visual arts and narrative art. In this context, the "artification" (Groensteen's term) of comics as a graphic and/or plastic art has been supported by museums, galleries, heritage auctions, whereas the promotion of certain comics as Literature by the Letter and Arts establishment has certainly elevated its status as a narrative art. With this dual-track development, Groensteen openly mused whether comics had changed over the years as a result , or rather has the way we look, consider, study, and practice comics changed?

Leaving that question dangling, Groensteen segued into discussions of modern art that privileged its avant garde and experimental practices - especially its focus on form, time, space and a rejection of narrative - as a way to contemplate another dimension in how comics are situated within the Art landscape. The examples that Groensteen presented, as seen below in the appended photographs, were chosen to suggest a specific progression of comics from the avant garde rejection of narrative to the appropriation of the experimental practice and aesthetics to tell new kinds of visual narratives. Hence the divorce and reconciliation reference that is made in his title to the presentation.    

This summary hardly does justice to Groensteen's prolonged and sustained observations, which were amusing, thoughtful and thought-provoking. The entirety of Groensteen's presentation (delivered in French and including the question and answer session that followed) is available as an MP3 audio recording in the link below. The running time of the recording is 1 hour 15 minutes.

Audio Recording - Thierry Groensteen @ Huberty & Breyne

N.B.  The meowing that one hears in the background of the recording that interrupts Groensteen at certain points of his presentation is the audio of an art installation from the Onomatopée show that was on display at the Huberty & Breyne Gallery from 25 November 2022 to 7 January 2023.   

Also presented below are photos of the images that Groensteen showed in his presentation to illuminate some of his observations and arguments about comics as seen through a modern art lens. The photo captions provide information about the artist and/or work referenced, as well as the time in the recording when Groensteen mentions them. 


- Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen


Victor Moscoso cover for ZAP Comix #4 (42m 42s)

Robert Crumb in ZAP Comix (43m 40s)


THE CAGE - Martin Vaughn-James (44m 20s)

ARTIST'S BOOK - Renato Caligaro (47m 14s)

ABSTRACT COMICS edited by Andrei Molutu (50m 30s)


Rivane Neuwenschwander (52m 50s)

THE ARRIVAL - Shaun Tan (54m 55s)

UN NUIT D'ÉTÉ - Margot Othats (56m 50s)

ALACK SINNER - Jose Munoz (58m 02s)

Edmond Baudoin (58m 22s)

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