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Comics in Museums and at their Periphery: Hierarchical Reaffirmation and Domination Adjustments in French Art Museums

By Jean-Matthieu Méon

Tintin at the Grand Palais! This event establishes the place of comics among Fine Arts, but, maybe also, Georges Remi’s access to immortality. (Serres 25)

This comment, made by the writer and philosopher Michel Serres in his foreword to the catalogue of the important 2016 exhibition dedicated to Hergé (Georges Remi) at the Grand Palais in Paris, is a typical illustration of the view of museum exhibitions as unequivocal consecrating events for comics. It also shows that, if the relationship between comics and fine art can be seen and discussed as a formal one, based on influences and appropriations, it is a symbolic and institutional relationship as well. It is a relationship that binds together fields of different labels, social histories, and cultural statuses into a process of consecration, a transfer of symbolic capital to comics. At the core of this process stand institutions that, as demonstrated by cultural and art sociology (Becker; Bourdieu, Field), embody and circulate the “legitimate” discourse on the cultural value of works and creators. According to Serres, by being presented in a museum, Hergé acquires symbolic immortality and, by some sort of a trickle-down effect, the whole ensemble of comics gains in legitimacy.

The double narrative of comics legitimization is one of a “coming of age” of the form (Pizzino 21-45) and of its recognition measured by literary accolades and a presence in museum institutions. In that sense, museums would be both a factor and an indicator of comics’ “consecration”1. Comics exhibitions in museums are thus often considered as a central factor in critical and academic discussions on comics’ artistic and cultural legitimacy. They certainly are a key empirical field to investigate the relationship between comics and consecrated arts and to assess the hierarchical structure of this relationship.

After a general discussion on comics, fine art, and their institutionally-organized hierarchical relationship, this paper develops an empirical study contrasting qualifications of comics creators and works within museum exhibitions and at their periphery. We conclude that if the hierarchical structure of the relationship stays unchanged, the strength and consequences of the cultural domination of fine art on comics creators and their works vary.

This study is based on the exploitation of different exhibition materials: exhibitions themselves (presented works, scenography, texts), catalogues and related publications, press kits. Our analysis is centered on the qualification operations these sources make apparent, in relation with legitimacy and domination issues as established by Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural legitimacy and its subsequent academic discussion. Our corpus focuses on comics exhibitions—defined as events presenting manufactured objects (such as books, merchandizing, artifacts, and so on) and/or original art related to comics—that have taken place in French art museums since the mid-2000s. We have retained for our demonstration the most important exhibitions of this sort, most often organized by Parisian institutions (see the list at the end of this article). Other art exhibitions, which are not focused on comics but incorporating them in one capacity or another, are also discussed.

Comics, Fine Art, and the Legitimization Process

Discussions on the cultural standing of comics (Ahmed et al.) and on the theoretical tools to understand it (Maigret and Stefanelli) are still open. Yet, different theoretical and methodological works, in a French-speaking or English-speaking context, put the ascending symbolic trajectory of comics into perspective. Christopher Pizzino writes that despite the legitimization narrative, comics are “still designated illegitimate by default” (3), and comics creators still confront this situation in their works. Nathalie Heinich, building on Vincent Seveau’s works, considers that the “artification” process known by comics remains “partial” (7). Earlier remarks made by Eric Maigret about the “mixed recognition” of comics (Maigret) or by Thierry Groensteen about the limits of the legitimization of comics, a form considered as an “unidentified cultural object” plagued with “symbolic handicaps” (Groensteen, Un Objet 20-54 “Why Are Comics”), keep some of their currency.

The study of comics exhibitions concurs with these observations. At the very least, it appears legitimacy remains a central issue in the organization and presentation of comics exhibitions in art museums, as if institutional actors had to tackle this issue. Empirical studies of these exhibitions establish comics’ legitimacy as conditional and dealing with a consistently reaffirmed hierarchy of arts (Beaty; Méon, “Comics Exhibitions,” “L’auteur comme artiste,” “L’artiste plutôt”). We argue this asymmetrical relationship between comics and fine art persists but sees contextual variations.

The Unavoidable Legitimacy Discussion

Judging by the texts that accompany exhibitions, their authors (cultural institution directors, curators, critics) need to address the legitimacy discussion: the legitimacy of comics to be presented in an art institution, the artistic legitimacy of this form of expression, the legitimacy of its creators. Whatever the tone and position adopted, the presence of these creators and of their works is not self-evident and needs to be discussed2.

In these texts, considerations about the history of art and the history of comics—and their intersections and the gaps between them—cross with justifications for the exhibition project and for its practical materialization. The terms and categories used in these introductory precautions are rooted in largely widely circulated representations about the hierarchy of cultural forms. These representations find their origins in intellectual debates and the legitimate/illegitimate and highbrow/lowbrow dual categories that were studied by academics such as Pierre Bourdieu or Lawrence Levine. They are also related to a specific museum history, and the authors of the exhibitions’ accompanying texts make references to French and American landmarks in this domain. The Bande dessinée et figuration narrative exhibition at the Musée des Arts décoratifs (Paris) in 1967 or the High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1990-1991 appear, in these texts, as ambivalent or negative precursors to modern comics exhibitions . The 2006 exhibition Masters of American Comics, co-organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art and the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles3, is seen more positively, by curators such as Laurent Le Bon, as a “magistral” and relevant reference for exhibitions such as those we consider here (14). Commenting on comics and fine art and on past comics exhibitions, Thierry Raspail, former museum director for Lyon’s Museum of Contemporary Art, notes,

“A wall is not an album or a book, a double page is not a screen, scale is not format and their uses are different. Yet, overall, High and Low have tried to mix, leaving aside kitsch, exoticisms, primitivisms, imperialisms and reciprocal identity impulses, weaving together cultural areas. In this respect, Art and B.D. didn’t sit still: the former, suffering from its celestial origin, tried to become the champion of today’s life, the latter, dissatisfied with its modest origin, tried to find some intelligence, shall we say, some brilliance, some authors… The mix rarely happened. But it doesn’t matter” (8).

The Grand Palais exhibition on Hergé in 2016 put this discussion of hierarchical categories at the foreground of its scenography. The title of its first section uses an oxymoron (“The Greatness of Minor Art”) as an attempt to resolve the legitimacy dilemma. Yet, the content of this section (a selection of private abstract and figurative paintings made by Hergé) offers an ambivalent solution: the old illegitimacy of comics here is bypassed by substituting paintings for the comics pages.

In these discussions conducted in catalogue introductions and/or on exhibition walls, the reference to debates on cultural legitimacy and its hierarchies can take different forms. Their authors try to take a stand in these debates as much as they try to get clear from them. Some of these references are made in order to explicitly express the legitimization exhibitions projects want to achieve. Fabrice Hergott, as director of the Paris Museum of Modern Art, thus writes,

“For a long time, museums ignored comics, seen as a minor art intended for entertainment. […] Through a spectacular reversal, comics exhibitions have become cultural highlights. Huge crowds, often little acquainted with museums, rush into these exhibitions to admire pages presented on the walls. […] If the Crumb–de l’underground à la Genèse exhibition contributes to this legitimization of the “ninth art,” it wants to go well beyond this context and to take part in the larger movement of transforming museums’ relation to artistic creation” (26-27, our emphasis).

Inversely, the legitimization question may be mentioned just to be more easily discarded or ignored in order to underline how the exhibition is concerned with other matters. Art critic Christian Rosset turns the discussion to aesthetics, for example, emphasizing a renewal of the way the comics form can be viewed and understood:

With no consideration for any process of legitimization (that some may call for; the true connoisseurs of the major art form that are comics have no use for it), the museum acts as a revelator. It allows for methodic scrutiny as well as wandering, a focused study of an image, the sometimes staggering encounter with the intrinsic genius of an image, be it flat or in three dimensions” (12, our emphasis).”

The High and Low categories are also used to better emphasize their obsolescence. For the authors of the texts, such categories have become less distinct and less relevant, as evidenced by the formal history of art as well by the works presented in the exhibitions. In this quasi-dialectic approach of categories, the metaphor of the crossing of borders (or the crossing of limits, of conventions, and so on) is recurring, as this excerpt from an exhibition press kit shows:

“Very quickly, the [Vallois gallery] chose to work with artists drawing from multiple sources, transcending usual conventions between major and so-called ‘minor’ arts […]. [Winshluss’s works] are no minor art, they are the demonstration of a genuine contemporary expression” (Galerie Vallois).

The different exhibitions offer different takes on the cultural legitimacy of comics, but their discourses converge in the consideration they give to this issue. Comics exhibitions in museums are not so much indicators of accomplished transformations of the cultural hierarchy but stances made in the discussion, in museums or beyond, about this hierarchy. The discourses that go with the exhibitions recall the legitimacy issue, make it apparent, and may try to preventively defuse it. Still, legitimacy endures as an unavoidable issue for comics and museums.

Hierarchy and Domination and their Contextual Variations

An empirical approach of comics exhibitions gives a somewhat nuanced assessment of the symbolic effects of these exhibitions. There are no automatic effects of consecrating apparatuses such as the museum exhibition. Based on specific principles of selection, presentation, and valorization, museum exhibitions necessarily impose norms and judgments that cannot be separated from their institutional fine art context. Ignoring the implicit normativity of cultural rehabilitation initiatives creates ambivalence, and rehabilitation gets mixed with instrumentalization and alteration (see Passeron; Dubois). Thus one has to consider how comics are presented within these exhibitions. Contrary to the aforementioned consecrating narrative, the practical presentation of comics and its accompanying discourses tend to reaffirm classic hierarchy between fine art and comics (Beaty 185-209). There is a symbolic call to order at play here: the legitimization of comics is conditional (Méon, “Bande dessinée”); it depends on the ability of creators and of works to conform to fine art institutional expectations and presentational routines.

Claude Grignon and Jean-Claude Passeron’s discussion of dominated culture underlines how the domination theorized by Pierre Bourdieu has to be contextualized in order to understand the social conditions it requires to be effective. The attention to contextual variations of cultural hierarchies and domination offers a better understanding of the relationships between consecrated and less-valued forms (Dubois et al.). Taking a cue from this approach, we consider here the variations of the hierarchical relationship between comics and fine art in comics exhibitions and museums. Three levels can be distinguished.

A first level is related to the institutional localization of comics exhibitions. As we have demonstrated elsewhere (Méon, “Comics Exhibitions”), the width of the spectrum of comics exhibitions depends on the institutions in which they are organized. The closer the exhibiting institution is to the comic book field (such as a comics festival), the more diverse the forms of the exhibitions are (with spectacular and narrative-centered exhibitions for example). Conversely, the closer the institution is to the cultural field (such as art museums and art foundations), the narrower the spectrum is, with only “artistic exhibitions” conforming to the art museum standards. As the art historian Jan Hoet revealingly stressed in his preface to the catalogue of the 1987 comics exhibition in Ghent’s museum of contemporary art, “it is the museum itself that determines what can and must be done in a museum” (5). The domination exerted by fine art institutions strictly defines and restricts the modalities of the comics exhibitions they host.

The implications of the institutional localization also depend on geographical factors. Geographically peripheral institutions—at least in the French context—may adopt a different approach to comics compared to more central Parisian (and thus more legitimate) ones. This aspect demands more empirical exploration but can be illustrated with the examples of two Gustave Doré exhibitions coordinately organized in 2014. The Parisian exhibition took place in the Musée d’Orsay. Gustave Doré: L’imaginaire au pouvoir was an extensive retrospective of Doré’s painted and drawn works. In that general overview, comics were mentioned and discussed, but only as a secondary aspect (two of the twenty chapters in the catalogue, one of the dozen sections of the exhibition). At the same time a smaller exhibition, Doré & Friends: Dessin, illustration, BD, cinéma, took place in the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum of Strasbourg in Alsace. Mentioned in the title of the exhibition, comics—by old and new creators alike—were featured in several of the sections of this exhibition (with original pages and original editions), with one section specially dedicated to “Sequencing.” In this geographically (and symbolically) less central institution, the balance between painting and comics was modified.

A second level of variation resides in the intra-institutional localization. In institutions where several exhibition spaces can be organized, differences in prestige distinguish the locations. The Centre Pompidou in Paris is made of several distinct components, among which are the National Museum of Modern Art (MNAM) and a library, the Bibliothèque Publique d’information (BPI). Some of the comics exhibition that took place within this vast institution were presented at the margins of the central art museum and were organized by the BPI4, including Co-Mix on Art Spiegelman in 2012, Claire Bretécher in 2016, and Gaston au-delà de Lagaffe in 2016-2017. The Hergé exhibition in 2006 was organized by the MNAM but was located in some of its secondary exhibition spaces of the Foyer, Forum, and Mezzanine, which are free entry spaces removed from the more prestigious Galleries 1 and 2 on the sixth level “used for major temporary exhibitions”5. The recognition given by cultural institutions has to be assessed through the effective place given to their comics exhibitions, the allocation of peripheral spaces marking a form of subordination or relative relegation of the presented works and creators.

A third level of symbolic variation can be found in the tools museums use to connect comics and fine art. Being the most visible and explicitly valorizing process available to museums, exhibitions draw most of the critical and analytical attention. Yet comics are integrated into the fine art institutions through other means. Comics can be present as companion discourse, within or around an exhibition. They can also be part of the tie-in products released in conjunction with an exhibition. In these cases, comics works and comics creators are thus offered different forms of participation to the fine art field: other formal interactions are possible, other social roles can be taken. The contrast between these peripheral presences and more central intra-exhibition presence will be the focus of the following sections of this paper.

From Books to Museum Walls: Comics as Art, Authors as Artists

Comics exhibitions in museums hinge on several requalification operations. The exhibition apparatus and its accompanying discourse establish a new frame through which to consider comics creators and their works. Comics, originally meant to be read in a published form, appear on walls to be looked at, and their creators—most often called “authors” in French-speaking context—are requalified as “artists”6. A central mechanism in this symbolic renaming resides in the versatility demonstrated by these creators. Yet, even after this transforming process, differences are reaffirmed by the exhibitions between the different forms of creators and works.

Disciplinary Requalifications

Organized in art museums, the comics exhibitions of our corpus rely on museum principles. Their focus is on original art—even though the definition of the “original” form of a comic implies arbitrary selections between the different steps of a production process. The exhibitions use museum tools to present these original works: framing the art pieces and hanging them on walls, presenting them in window displays. Other items are presented, such as original or foreign editions of comics (sometimes displayed in decorative manners) or toys and various commercial products, but original art is at the center of the scenographic and symbolic stage. The frontal presentation of original art for itself—and not only as an element of the “phenomenology of creation” (Martin and Mercier 93)7—entails a form of visual or formal reductionism of comics (Méon, “Comics Exhibitions”) according to which comics, in this context, at least, have to be looked at rather than read and appreciated foremost for their graphic components. Such an approach is sometimes explicitly advocated in the exhibitions or their catalogues:

“When one visits Quintet, each comics page hung on the wall frontally begs first to be seen, asking from the viewer to not limit himself to what the form traditionally induces (such as reading the page from right to left, from top to bottom)” (Rosset 12).

The fragmentation logic that prevail in the presentation of original art further marginalizes the narrative dimension of comics. But for a few spectacular exceptions (all of the 124 original pages of the black and white version of Hergé’ Blue Lotus in 2006, Pratt’s Ballad of the Salt Sea presented in its 163-page entirety in 2011, or the 207 pages of Crumb’s The Book Genesis in 2012), most of the original works that are presented are only excerpts from longer narratives conducted on dozen to hundreds of pages. The stories cannot be read and followed in this context. The recurring absence of actual books that could be manipulated and read confirms this relegation, as does the little attention given to comics writers when they contribute to a displayed work.

The museum institution directs its visitors’ attention mainly towards the virtuosity and the inventiveness of the line and of the composition. This approach may also inform other extensions of the exhibitions such as their catalogue, sometimes conceived as an “anti-album” and an “homage to drawing” (Le Bon 15), using “a new photographic process that reveals details of exceptional matter and relief,” according to a press release about the Bilal Mécanhumanimal exhibition. The art is reproduced as art and not as a reading page.

This requalification process concerns the comics creators as much as their works. The museum institution invites and presents the comics creator first and foremost as a “dessinateur,” as a drawing artist.

“It is Hergé the drawing artist we want to present, like any other great artist of the Twentieth Century” (Le Bon 14).

“The Paris Museum of Modern Art organizes the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to one of the greatest drawing artists of the last fifty years: Robert Crumb” (Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, press release).

The author—and his specific form of expression, comics—is recontextualized, inscribed in an open—or displaced—perspective on art history. The author’s talent is measured against this other history. Bart Beaty has shown how Crumb’s style and practice is most often compared to non-comics creators (204-206), with curators and museums looking at his body of work from a fine art perspective8. This is a common feature of comics exhibitions.

The more recent 2016 Hergé exhibition follows the same trope. In “Hergé avec un grand A,” the catalogue chapter devoted to Hergé’s artistic status, Cécile Maisonneuve, art historian and scientific consultant for the Grand Palais, develops an analysis almost exclusively centered on the relationship between Hergé’s aesthetic research and the major artistic debates of the twentieth century. Hergé’s style is related to discussions on primitivism, on movement, on abstraction. Futurists Serge Poliakoff, Joan Miro, Jean Dubuffet, David Hockney and several other fine art creators are referenced to highlight the artistic relevance of Hergé’s production and trajectory. But no comics creator is mentioned. In the same manner, throughout the exhibition and the catalogue very few comics creators are discussed. Except for Benjamin Rabier, George McManus, and Alain Saint-Ogan, with original art and original editions displayed for each of them, most comics creators only appear in photographs as Hergé’s collaborators9. This non-comics discussion of Hergé10 expresses the general museum take on comics: for comics to be considered as art and comics creators as artists, their formal and aesthetic relationship with fine art must be established and discussed. “It’s Hergé’s art which is at stake here—and thus Hergé’s relationship to art,” explicitly writes the curator Jérôme Neutres (27, our emphasis).

The Author as a Versatile Artist

Listing the diverse activities of a comics creator is one of the most common observations made in exhibitions, catalogues and related press releases. The honored creator is “multimedia and visionary”11, “a dabbler (films, comics, animation, music, contemporary art, performing arts, press)”12, who “goes beyond the traditional limits of his discipline”13. These are creators whose talent is considered as bigger than their (comic) art. This versatility is emphasized by the exhibitions through a double selection process: a selection of creators and a selection of their works.

Creators selected for an inclusion in a comics exhibition come from diverse horizons. Yet, when one considers monographic exhibitions or exhibitions dealing with a small set of creators, many of the creators do have a diverse activity which allows for a presentation as a versatile artist. Enki Bilal, Hugo Pratt, Joost Swarte, Francis Masse, Stéphane Blanquet, Chris Ware, Robert Crumb, Winshluss, François Schuiten, and Benoît Peeters all have produced works outside the strict sequential narration framework of comics during their careers. For a creator like Hergé, with a more straightforward comics output, private diversification is presented (his private oil paintings) and the “transdisciplinary” nature of his “influence” (“on writers […], movie makers […], psychoanalysts […] and philosophers […]”) is stressed (Neutres 27).

Versatility is also put forward through the selection process of works. On one hand, the selection is made between works involved in the production of comics. If the basic item of the exhibitions is the original page, the selection retains original works partly dissociated from the actual comics or works that reduce the narrative sequencing of comics in favor of a more pictorial effect. Thus are exhibited covers, splash pages, details or fragments, preliminary sketches or studies, or simply drawings that exemplify a creator’s style but which are not related to sequential narration (works for posters, postcards, record covers). For example, the 2009 Vraoum! exhibition in Paris, presenting contemporary artists next to comics creators, featured 173 works made by comics creators; 110 of those were pages or strips, the sixty-three others being covers, adverts, sketches, and so on. The 2012 Crumb exhibition presented an important number of complete stories. But when one considers the entries listed in the catalogue, fifty-six of those were related to stories (ranging from two to 207 pages!), ninety-four were for magazine and record covers or posters and 131 for other drawings (sketches, illustrations).

On the other hand, the selection process also emphasizes works which are related neither to comics nor drawing. The versatility of the creator and the diversity of their talent is expressed through the presence of paintings (Moebius, Bilal, Winshluss, Hergé) or watercolors (Pratt), sculptures (Masse in Quintet, Winshluss), repurposed objects (Bilal, Winshluss, Schuiten and Peeters), art installations (Bilal, Winshluss, Blanquet in Quintet), videos (Moebius, Bilal, Winshluss). The presence of such non-comics works in exhibitions devoted to creators known for their comics output requires some explanation from the curators and commentators of these exhibitions:

“[E]ach work that appears at first to be totally non-conform[ing] to the principles of the ‘comics genre’ (that genre we try to forget but that incessantly comes back at us) seems to ‘wink’ at the visitor: “look how comics live in me—yes, comics as you never understood them before but more self-aware than ever. Comics, like any domain of creation, are not alone. In total illegitimacy, comics mate, procreate and evolve” (Rosset 12).

The consideration of a comics author through the prism of his versatility goes here with an ambition to redefine comics, by distancing them from their most traditional features.

Versatility can also be the result of the exhibition itself, of the invitation made by the museum. The Bilal exhibitions (at the Louvre in 2012-2013 and at the Musée des Arts et métiers in 2013-2014) and Schuiten and Peeters’ Machines à dessiner (Musée des Arts et métiers 2016-2017) all rely on such an institutional invitation to diversification14. These creators were asked to choose pieces from museum collections and to display them in a new light. Bilal, like Schuiten and Peeters, in the scientific culture Musée des Arts et métiers, chose items consistent with their specific thematic and stylistic universes: machines reminiscent of a postmodern dystopia or of past-modern utopias. Schuiten and Peeters offer both a technical and aesthetic look at these items. Bilal renamed them and thus transformed them into imaginary artifacts coming from his books. A process of selection, repurposing, requalification, and possibly expansion is asked here from the authors15. In this situation, the author is expected to play the role of a poet, a conceptual artist and/or a scenographer. As Serge Chambaud, scientific and technical culture director for the Musée des arts et métiers, writes in the exhibition press kit, “[Bilal] was given carte blanche to conceive what amounts more to an installation or an artistic performance than a traditional exhibition.”

An Artist like any Other?

Focusing on versatility, exhibitions present comics creators through various figures of more legitimate fields: drawing artist, painter, sculptor, video makers, and so on. It is this very versatility that establishes the author as an artist. It gives the creator the legitimacy to be presented and honored by the exhibiting institution.

“Yet, Quintet is not a comics [BD] exhibition. It is devoted to five authors whose universes, iconographies and recent productions largely exceed the limits of the illustrated story and of the page. Quintet is an exhibition of artists” (Musée d’Art contemporain de Lyon 3. Our emphasis).

This quote makes apparent what is at stake when terms like author and artist are articulated or substituted for each other. In the context we study here, author refers to a disciplinary belonging (in this case, comics or the more derogatory “BD”16) and to all of its formal and symbolic limits. The artist is the creator who gave proof of his creativity through the diversity of his production. The author that can be considered as an artist is the one who demonstrated his understanding of issues specific to the fine art field, such as critical reflexivity and formal research.

“[The] Moebius-Transe-Forme [exhibition] gives the opportunity to discover the work of a remarkable artist who never ceases to push formal limits to explore new horizons” (Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, exhibition booklet).

Comics creators are presented and distinguished as artists, but their comics origins prevent them of being discussed and considered as artists like any others. If the 2009 Quintet exhibition claimed to be an “exhibition of artists” instead of a “comics exhibition,” its principle resided in an ambivalent selection process. The creators were presented as full artists. Yet the reunion of these full-on artists, despite their stylistic, formal, and generational differences, is only determined by their (former or present, strong or distant) relationship to comics.

In the same manner, the dialogue some exhibitions (Vraoum! in 2009, the art biennial of Le Havre in 2010, or Quelques instants plus tard in 2012-2013) try to organize between comics and fine art ultimately reaffirms a statutory difference between creators presented as equals. The difference resides in the very principle of such exhibitions: a dialogue implies the existence of two distinct ensembles, art and comics (Beaty 191-192). It is also more quietly expressed in the practical presentation of artists. The Vraoum! press kit seemingly indistinctly lists all the presented artists but an implicit color code distinguishes comics creators from contemporary artists. In Quelques instants plus tard, which presented forty works made by fine artist/comics creator pairs, the names of fine artists appear in bold type before the non-bold names of comics artists. Assigning the “comics creator” status to half of the exhibited participants was based on their association with comics—even though this association was for some them in the past and/or occasional17.

Exhibitions are spaces of recognition and instruments of cultural legitimization; they also are moments of reaffirmation of the symbolic order. They set the conditions and limits of consecration. The way comics creators are constantly brought back to their disciplinary status precludes them from their complete inclusion in the fine art field. The exhibition discourses constantly oscillate between a disciplinary and symbolic (and devaluing) assignation of comics creator and the recognition of individual exceptions18, of deserving creators able to go beyond their comics roots to be considered as artists.

From the Walls to the Bookstore: Comics at the Margins of Museums

The relationship between comics and fine art that comics exhibitions manifest knows variations at the margins of the museum. Some institutions invite comics creators to comment on fine art works and artists within their exhibition spaces or in books, published in relation with some of their exhibitions19. Comics and comics creators thus leave the walls they occupy in comics-dedicated exhibitions for other marginal places in museums: residual spaces on the walls of non-comics exhibitions or bookshelves in museum bookstores. On these occasions other practical and symbolic connections are made between fine art museums and comics creator. The medium given to comics creators in such projects (walls or books of various formats), the artistic tools they use to express their comments (drawing or painting, isolated images or sequences), the nature of these comments, and the autonomy the comics creator’s work can acquire regarding the commented works or artist(s): all of these are instances where the relationship between fine art and comics finds new actualizations and where domination can loosen. In contrast with the museum-controlled format of the exhibition, the relationship here takes place on comics’ formal and editorial ground. In exhibitions, comics had to conform to museum and fine art standards of presentation and evaluation. Elsewhere, comics creators can play their own game, dealing with cartoons or with sequential visual narratives in books.

Analyzing comics appropriating museum art as well as museum-commissioned comic works, Michal D. Picone has shown how the production of such works could entail a “repositioning of both museums and comics artists” toward a “co-operative” and more “solidifie[d]” relationship (67). Similar remarks are made by Margaret C. Flinn, based on her analysis of the Louvre-commissioned collection of bandes dessinées published by Futuropolis since 2005. In these books, comics creators use “reflexivity and mise en abyme” as formal and narrative strategies to assert their artistic status and to promote a “relationship of equality between art and bande dessinée” (Flinn 92). Both Picone and Flinn nevertheless underline these co-productions don’t necessarily change the “locus of power” (Picone 67) or overcome the “two-way hostility” between comics and fine art (Flinn 92). Indeed, considering our own corpus, we argue the reversed articulation between comics and fine art that takes place at the margins of museums doesn’t mean the hierarchical framework of the relationship is called into question. Practices and discourses maintain statutory differences between the two ensembles.

The Three Figures of the Comics Creator

Through the different configurations that can be observed at the margins of the museum, three figures appear for comics creators in their relationship with fine art. Their role is one of cultural mediator, critic and biographer, or peer artist.

A Cultural Mediator

In 2016, the Swiss comics creator Zep (author of the hugely successful humor series Titeuf) was asked by the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille, in the North of France, to contribute to the third edition of its annual Open Museum project20. For this event, “carte blanche” is given to an “unexpected” guest artist to “open the museum doors to a new audience, to open eyes and minds on the collections of this prestigious institution” (Lille Mayor Martine Aubry qtd. in Zep 5). As a cultural mediator, the guest artist has to help the institution reach other audiences with other means. Zep’s project for the Palais des Beaux-Arts was twofold, with in-situ interventions and the publication of a comic book-format softcover book.

Within the museum, Zep offered humorous and offbeat comments on the pieces of the museum’s collection, that ranges from prehistoric artifacts to contemporary works of art. His drawings were projected on the walls, next to the commented works (from an Egyptian sarcophagus to a mediaval icon or a modern painting), or sometimes directly on the works (for example video projecting tattoos or fake chest hairs on a classical nude statue). Some works made by Zep were also exhibited: painted pastiches or parodies (for example a pop music-themed re-creation of a Bosch painting) and some original drawings and sketches. The book published in conjunction with the exhibition consists in a chronological presentation of historical and artistic periods, from prehistory to abstract art. For each period or theme, a piece of the museum collection faces a cartoon by Zep, which are also the cartoons projected in the museum. They are accompanied by informative paragraphs written by Régis Cotentin, an art curator of the museum staff, about technics, themes and artistic debates. There are a few sequential pages in the book, previously published on the creator’s blog or in one of his Titeuf books.

The first two-page strip by Zep clearly states that “as a child, [he] didn’t like museums,” but he learned to appreciate the artists’ attempt at immortalizing living instants (Zep 8-9). A second two-page strip introduces one of the recurring metaphors of the book: art as cooking and museums as restaurants (but don’t each too much and don’t mix too many dishes!). The discourse conveyed by the exhibition and the book fully plays its mediating role: the comics creator delivers a humorous and accessible commentary that attempts to level down the symbolic distance the museum institution imposes to some audiences21.

A Critic and Biographer

On three occasions (at the time of writing), the Centre Pompidou in Paris commissioned original comics creations to be published as companions to its fine art exhibitions. The first commission was made for the important Dali retrospective that took place in Paris from November 2012 to March 2013. The second commission was made on the occasion of Marcel Duchamp: La peinture même (September 2014 – January 2015). The third one was also for a monographic exhibition, René Magritte, la trahison des images (September 2016 – January 2017). The results of those commissions are very different editorial products but they share a similar attempt at sophistication and distinction, and they put the comics creators in a similar role of critic and biographer.

These projects were initiated by Jeanne Alechinsky, editor of the comics imprint for the Centre Pompidou22. They were realized in partnership with two comics publishers: Dupuis, through its “auteur comics” imprint Aire Libre (Glaude 2011), and Actes Sud BD (one of the two comics imprints of the literary publisher Actes Sud). The comics creators chosen for these books are critically acclaimed or less established actors of independent comics. Edmond Baudoin, author of the Dali book, is a founding figure of autobiographical comics in France. The Magritte comics are made by well-known and acclaimed comics creators like David B. (of the Epileptic fame) or Eric Lambé (less well-known but winner of a “Fauve d’Or” award in Angoulême in 2017 with Philippe de Pierpont), or by more confidential creators with links to the fine art, such as Brecht Vandenbroucke (author of the contemporary art satire White Cube in 2014) or François Olislaeger (creator of comics on fine art and theater and in collaboration with artists such as the choregrapher Mathilde Monnier), also author of the Pompidou Duchamp comics.

Dali par Baudoin is a 160-page book in the graphic novel format. The Duchamp and Magritte books are in more original and diverse formats. Duchamp: Un jeu entre moi et je is a six-meter long leporello (accordion) book. René Magritte vu par… is a set of five booklets: one in a stapled comic book format, two leporellos and two two-sided posters. Each one is made by a different creator or pair of creators. The common characteristic of these various formats is their differentiation from the dominant hardcover “album” format for comics in France. The fine art commentary here is presented in a sophisticated and distinctive form. Comics are invited to comment on fine artists but not any comics (or not any comics format).

The techniques (black and white or colors, ink and pencil or paint) and the styles used by the different contributors in these books are diverse, but their approaches of the artists they present are along the same lines. These books offer a mainly biographical look at the discussed artists—even if they do not present a linear and exhaustive biography and are sometimes very allusive or metaphorical. Almost all of them gives at least minimal biographical data and dates, sometimes with biographical and bibliographical supplements. The bodies of work of the artists are presented in a specific manner: the work functions as imagery, a stock of images that have to be presented or evoked, that have to be appropriated or reinvented by the comics creators and that have to be explained.

This is especially true for artists like Dali and Magritte, whose works are famous for their striking images. Famous objects, characters, and situations of their paintings are used as a setting for the narrative (Olislaeger 2016) or as characters in a panorama (Sekulic-Struja) or in short surrealistic stories (Giandelli, Vandenbroucke). Paintings are remediated (from painting to drawing) and reinvented, sometimes faithfully (Sekulic-Struja), sometimes with more distance and interpretation (Baudoin), following the three models identified by Thierry Groensteen in the comics rendering of paintings: reproduction, pastiche, reinterpretation (Groensteen, “Biographies”).  Transforming figures from a painting into characters of a story (for example, in Vandenbroucke’s Les jours gigantesques, we see a day in the life of Magritte’s veiled-faced Lovers) shows how appropriation also takes the form of sequential narrativization of the works.

The cryptic imagery generates some cryptic narratives but also attempts to explicate its meaning. Here the biographical trope comes back, as references are made to the artists’ life to explain their works or their style. The link between Magritte’s recurring veiled faces and his mother’s tragic suicide by drowning is for example clearly put forth both in Olislaeger’s and David B. and Eric Lambé’s contributions. More formal considerations, in relation with intellectual and artistic debates contemporary to the artists’ production, are given (especially in Duchamp’s case), but biographical—and partly psychoanalytical—explanations are favored. The critical discourse produced here by comics creators on these artists is deeply related to a personality centered biographical prism.

A Peer Artist

Two of Joann Sfar’s projects illustrate a different role for the comics creator in his relationship with fine art and cultural institutions23. The first of these projects by this famous comics creator, who is critically acclaimed and commercially successful not only for his comics (such as The Rabbi’s Cat) but also for his movies and novels, was produced in conjunction with an important Musée d’Orsay retrospective, Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947): Peindre l’Arcadie (March – July 2015). On this occasion, Sfar’s contribution was double. He contributed to the exhibition catalogue with seven pages of text on Bonnard with ten black and white ink illustrations of a nude model in her bath (“Monsieur Bonnard”). Sfar also released Je l’appelle monsieur Bonnard, a 64-page book, in a hardcover album format, which presented the totality of his life paintings and drawings referencing Bonnard and his colorful manner and some of his subjects.

This book is strongly connected to the fine art field when one considers, in addition to the commission itself, its editorial context and its content. It is published by Editions Hazan, an art book publisher. And it is entirely devoted to drawings and paintings “adapted from or inspired by Pierre Bonnard’s work” (Sfar, Je l’appelle). The publisher particularly stresses the manner used by Sfar:

“The drawings and canvas paintings (which are a new medium for Sfar’s creations) take place in the pictorial tradition, affirming even more the position of drawing and comics in the history of contemporary art” (Editions Hazan, online presentation of the book).

Sfar’s drawings and paintings were independently presented for selling at the Artcurial art gallery for a week in April 2015. Yet this project is not one more simple case of inviting the comics creator to do something other than comics. Je l’appelle monsieur Bonnard explicitly claims its comics-identity through both its format and its affirmative use of narration. Even though the book is clearly a collection of life drawings and paintings, these works are organized in a layout that can be read as sequential (with several images on the same page), something that is reinforced by the occasional use of balloons in some drawings. A minimal plot unites all the images: a model waiting for monsieur Bonnard and soliloquizing. In his introduction to the book, Sfar asserts his creative identity as a storyteller:

“I tell stories. Even when my panels are two-meter high and colored with oil painting, I cannot think otherwise than sequentially. […] In my works, even when in a bath, we are always moving to the following image.”

This narrative dimension is totally absent from Sfar’s contribution to the Bonnard catalogue, as no sequential layout and no balloon are used. There are several symbolic degrees in the move from the museum walls to the bookstore: for the comics creator, leeway is more limited in the museum-related catalogue than in the more distant (yet still related) book.

The different characteristics of Je l’appelle monsieur Bonnard are more prominently featured in the second Sfar project we want to discuss. This project is similar in its design but takes place in a different institutional context. Sfar was invited by the Parisian art center Espace Dali (a private collection of Dali’s works, opened in 1991) and he was given “carte blanche to imagine the scenario of a meeting” with Salvador Dali (Espace Dali Paris press kit 3). The project had several dimensions: Sfar was to use the private museum collection and building as an inspiration for a creation, resulting in an exhibition (Joann Sfar – Salvador Dali Une seconde avant l’éveil, September 2016 – March 2017) and a comic, Fin de la parenthèse, published by the comics publisher Rue de Sèvres and, for a time, exclusively available at the museum bookstore. If the exhibition itself follows a traditional dialogic mode of presenting Sfar’s original comics art alongside Dali’s works and some haute couture Schiaparelli apparel, the book stands as an autonomous work, existing independently from the exhibition and firmly embedded in comics field.

Fin de la parenthèse is a 136-page hardcover album, entirely ink-drawn in a classic sequential format, with colors added by comics-colorist Brigitte Findakly. It consists of a long fiction narrative, in which a painter is invited to magically revive a cryogenically frozen Dali through a days-long isolated session of life drawing with four models in the Espace Dali private mansion. The book thus narrativizes its own conception process. But the narrativization also concerns Dali’s works. Several times, Sfar recreates famous paintings, sometimes as half-page illustrations, sometimes through a sequential fragmentation that transforms a painting in a short narrative. For example, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening is redrawn as a half-page panel on page 92 and deconstructed as a sequence of eight panels on the following page. In a manner similar to his Bonnard book, the successive poses of the models are described and drawn as “related to the narrative sequence” (Sfar, Fin 44). Stylistically as well as thematically, the book is also a fully autonomous work, inseparable from Sfar’s previous body of work. His specific drawing style, his lettering, and his layouts are used for a story that deals with some of his usual themes, discussing the importance of art and of the (sexual) body against the rise of religious fanaticism and violence. Dali or fine art is but one of the thematic threads of the book.

The appropriation of the commissioned project on Dali’s works results in an inversion of the “comics as raw material” (Beaty 188) relationship with fine art. The comics creator freely plays with the fine artist’s works to produce a work that is both autonomous (it doesn’t need to be related to Dali to be read and appreciated) and explicitly a comics piece—in its narrative drawn form as well as in its color album format. Sfar positions himself as a peer artist to Dali but also as an autonomous comics artist of his own.

In the other cases we studied, the “peer artist” position can also be observed, even if less strongly manifested. David B’s script for his and Lambré’s Magritte booklet owes much to his own themes, mixing family trauma and dime novel references (the evocation of Magritte’s love for Fantômas, Zigomar, or Nick Carter echoes David B’s works such as Les Incidents de la nuit). Baudoin’s focus on Dali’s intimate feelings and life experience is very close to the tone of his more personal works. Even more, Baudoin represents himself in the Dali book, showing his questions about the creation of this work, his own attitudes and the similarities between his and Dali’s life trajectories and art. Still, it is foremost a book about Dali’s life and works. Tellingly, if twenty pages of the book are devoted to a precise biographical chronology of Dali, there is no information given about Baudoin himself and his own work, except for a very general back cover mention (“Edmond Baudoin, one of the most unique contemporary comics authors”). An exhibition of Baudoin’s original pages for the Dali book was organized during the Centre Pompidou exhibition, but it took place out of the Parisian cultural institution and in the regional comics-dedicated museum of Angoulême.

An Institutional Reframing: Reaffirming Hierarchy

The institutional discourse on these comics productions reveals how this different form of articulation remains within the more classic limits of the fine art/comics hierarchy. These initiatives are subject to an institutional reframing that ambivalently qualifies these works and their creators and that delineates a very specific tonal and thematic domain for comics.

In the exhibitions’ communication documents, these comics are confined to an accompanying status, on par with traditional catalogues or related publications and essays (Dali par Baudoin), or, in a more relegating manner, as tie-in products. It is indeed as such that Magritte vu par… appears on the Pompidou Center website: the Magritte exhibition page lists the book set under the “items from museum shop,” next to a pencil case, a document folder, cushions, plates, and the exhibition catalogue itself24. Similarly, Sfar’s Fin de la parenthèse is presented on the “tie-in products” page of the press kit for the Joann Sfar – Salvador Dali Une seconde avant l’éveil exhibition, next to postcards, a poster, and a tote bag. The attempts at autonomous comics works on fine art and fine artists are reframed in a “souvenir” category.

The comics creators are qualified in various ways in the books themselves and in the institutional communication. The already discussed tension between “author” and “artist” is at play here. Baudoin and the contributors to Magritte vu par… are presented as “comics authors” on their respective back covers; Zep is presented as “an artist and author” in the mayor’s preface to the Open Museum book (Zep 5). Sfar and Olislaeger appear as versatile artists, with biographies stressing the diversity of their careers. In the Bonnard catalogue, Sfar is listed simply as a “drawing artist” (and none of the paintings done on the occasion are reproduced). In the Dali press release as well as in the press kit, Sfar is never identified as an “author” nor a “comics author” but as a “contemporary storyteller,” an “artist” who “studied” and now “teaches” “at the Beaux-Arts of Paris” (Espace Dali Paris 1 and 8). No matter the comics identity Sfar gave to his Dali book, he is requalified as an artist.

This ambivalent qualification reflects a deeper hesitation to put comics creators and fine artists on equal footing in one common category. This is especially visible in the contrast between Baudoin’s discourse in his Dali book and the editor’s presentation of this project. In his book, Baudoin presents Dali and himself as two artists whose different life stories explain the difference in styles and subject:

“But you see, I cannot draw like Dali, with ‘his hand.’ My life story is very different from his. I learned to draw with my living brother, and I was 15 when I made love for the first time25.”

In Baudoin’s perspective, he and Dali are both artists, distinguished by human experience. In editor Jeanne Alechinsky’s presentation, the argument is almost exactly reversed. She cautiously avoids using the term “artist” for Baudoin (favoring the classic “author” or a more general “creator” qualification) but underlines his human proximity with Dali. Dali and Baudoin are both humans, distinguished by their respective artistic domains:

“The idea of a book in which the world of a great artist would be reactivated, seen through the eyes of another creator, seemed right. The meeting of two universes, revealing the view of one human on another human, united by the artistic process” (Alechinsky, our emphasis).

The role given to comics by cultural institutions is restricted to a precise domain defined by its specific tone and approach. When one considers the books commissioned by museums or related to their exhibitions, there are two main registers. One is humor, or at least some lightness in the evocation of fine artists and their works. This is of course the case with Zep’s treatment of Lille’s fine art museum, but it is also present in other books of our corpus (Sfar’s and Olislaeger’s comics for example). A second and more dominant register is one of intimacy. These comics indeed take an intimate look at fine artists, focusing on their life and/or feelings. In that sense, they conform to the legitimizing but thematically restricting intimacy trope identified by Daniel Worden and Bart Beaty (218-222). Their human-level commentary on fine art is in line with themes of some of the most praised comics, such as those of Chris Ware and his determination to “communica[te] what it feels like to be alive” (qtd. in Beaty 222).

In this perspective, comics are assigned a subjective and sensitive approach of fine art, offering an intuitive understanding of works and artists. It is as an explicitly non-savant discourse that comics are invited by fine art institutions. Hence the scientific addenda given to some of these comics: Dali par Baudoin is “backed by a strict scientific discourse,” according to the back cover text, and includes a detailed chronology written by the editor; a selective bibliography is given in Magritte vu par… These comics are meant to present artists and works in a manner more savant discourses could not. As Alechinsky explains, comics reach an audience more savant discourses cannot:

“I realized that much of our visitors, which came to be moved in the rooms of our museums, probably felt quite taken aback and quite alone confronted with the not-so accessible texts of our imposing books. Where could this moving vibration, the emotions felt during the visit of the exhibition, be found?

Where could intimacy be found? Certainly not in the texts of art historians which have the virtue of contributing to the advance of science but which do not have the vocation to be concerned with emotion. I then turned towards the intimate and the emotional and, just there, stood comics. I have always been interested in the easy access given by comics, through feelings, through empathy felt for the characters moving before our eyes.”

Based on this definition of comics as an emotional and sensitive form, an instrumental function is given to comics. Their role at the margins of the museum institution is one of accessibility. The figures of the peer artist and of the critic and biographer are subsumed under the one of the cultural mediator. In this instrumental context, comics have a subsidiary status, and the legitimist hierarchy between comics and fine art gets reaffirmed.

But this hierarchical relationship results not only from institutional imposition. The involved comics creators themselves recognize the limits of their own approach to fine art. Even when ambitious, their works express an attitude that is both modest and reverential. The subjective and human-level approach is cautious not to intrude on art historians’ domain. And self-depreciating irony tempers gestures towards peer equality. In Dali par Baudoin, a theoretical monologue by Baudoin on the stylistic implications of Dali’s 1951 Mystical Manifesto is abruptly interrupted by his female protagonist asking “Mister the Artist” why he substituted his own representation to the younger male character that she was with earlier in the book. The “artist” qualification here is a call to modesty and to more down-to-earth narration (Baudoin).

Consistent with modesty is the reverential attitude of comics creators towards serious culture and fine art26. Sfar’s contribution to the Bonnard catalogue is a strong illustration of this reverence. Referring to the painter as “Monsieur Bonnard,” Sfar repeatedly points out his own limits, his fear that his “drawing profession condemns him to be funny, to be about the Anecdotal” (“Monsieur” 144), the necessity of “feeling authorized to paint” (“Monsieur” 143), the “humbling” effect of Bonnard’s painting (“Monsieur” 146). He clearly states an essential statutory difference between the painter and “the image maker” that he is, unable “to reach the divine step” that confers universality to a painting (“Monsieur” 146). It is the mark and the strength of symbolic domination that the dominated acknowledge the hierarchy that relegates them to their subsidiary position.

The relationship between comics and fine art takes place in a symbolic context, made of norms and judgments embodied by cultural institutions such as museums. Contrary to a vivacious legitimization narrative, this context reveals that comics’ cultural legitimacy still is an issue. Museums and their curators and directors consistently put this question at the front of their presentation of comics and of comics exhibitions. If comics have gained some legitimacy, it is a conditional legitimacy. Comics and comics creators find a place in museums only if they can be requalified as art and artists. The double fragmentation of the works (fragmentation of the production process and fragmentation of the narrative) and the focus on the versatility of creators are the expression of this institutional hierarchical distinction between comics and fine art.

Yet the domination exerted by fine art institutions on comics knows contextual variations. The way to talk about comics and to relate them to fine art varies according to several levels. Depending on the institution, on its geographical situation, on the intra-institutional space used for comics exhibitions or on the practical tools used for comics inclusion, comics and fine art find different forms of articulation. Contrasting discourses and practices within the museums and their comics exhibitions with more peripheral presences of comics illustrates the extent of these contextual variations.

At the margins of museums, domination weighs differently. A more autonomous discourse is accessible to comics creators, who are able to produce works with their more usual comics formal features, such as sequentiality and book format. The comics/fine art relationship is brought to comics’ formal and editorial ground. But the loosening of domination is not a contestation of hierarchy. The looser forms of articulation that can be observed between comics and fine art remain at the margins of museums. And they confine comics to a restricted domain, in themes and tones (humor or intimacy) and in function (accessibility). Domination adjustments do not preclude the reaffirmation of the fine art/comics hierarchy.


[1] The French intellectual journal Le Débat published an issue (no.195) on comics titled Comics’ consecration (Le sacre de la bande dessinée) in May-August 2017.

[2] For a longer discussion see Méon, “L’auteur comme artiste”.

[3] Masters of American Comics took place in Los Angeles, between November 2005 and March 2006. It was also presented in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and in New York and New Jersey. For a discussion of this exhibition, see Beaty (195-198). Kim Munson also discusses this exhibition and its innovative approach contrasting with previous major attempts at comics exhibitions in art museums (290-292).

[4] For a similar observation, see Groensteen, La bande dessinée.

[5] This is the description given by the Pompidou Center website:

[6] In conventions when talking about comics, “artist” refers to the drawing artist, the visual contributor (sometimes helped by other visual contributors: inker, colorist) to the creation, distinct from the “writer.” Here we use “artist” as a larger term related to fine art practitioner and not to the internal work division in the production process. In a French-speaking context, this terminological ambiguity is prevented by the conventional use of “dessinateur” when referring to the drawing creator.

[7] The genetic approach is not absent in the considered exhibitions. Yet it occupies a secondary place in the presentation itself. For example, the 2016 Hergé exhibition and catalogue display original black and white pages, coloring guides and printed versions. But in other exhibitions, printed books are almost or totally absent from the presented selection of works.

[8] For a similar observation on the 2012 Paris Crumb exhibition, see Méon, “L’auteur comme artiste” 194.

[9] Edgar P. Jacobs and Bob de Moor are exceptions here, with small paragraphs dedicated to them.

[10] The 2016 Hergé exhibition and catalogue are not to be reduced to this approach. Though it is dominant, other approaches are also adopted: comparisons between original and printed pages, comments on Hergé’s “narrative drawing.”

[11] Remark about Enki Bilal, from 2013-2014 Mécanhumanimal exhibition press release.

[12] Excerpt from Winschluss’s biography in his art institution-commissioned comic book Gang of Four.

[13] Remark about Moebius, from the exhibition leaflet (Moebius Transe Forme, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Oct. 2010 – Mar. 2011).

[14] These exhibitions also presented, in a more classic fashion, original drawings and works by the invited creators. For the Louvre exhibition, Bilal painted on photographs of twenty-three pieces of the museums and wrote short stories for each of them. The resulting works were temporarily presented in a section of the Louvre and were published in a single book (Bilal, Les fantômes).

[15] The Winshluss 2013 exhibition at the Musée des arts décoratifs, for which Winshluss created several toys dioramas, was stylistically very different from those examples. Yet, it followed the same principles of selection, requalification and installation.

[16] “BD” is the most commonly used acronym for “bande dessinée” in France. But it’s also a contested term because of its long association with some contents (children comics), formats (the franco-belgian album) and audience (fandom). Some creators and publishers thus prefer not use this acronym, in favor of its full expansion. In that sense, the use of “BD” in the context of the Quintet exhibition is meant to be restrictive, reducing comics to their most common mainstream or fannish incarnations. To contrast “authors” and “artists” with “BD” is then even more stricking.

[17] For creators such as Avril, Miles Hyman, Nicollet, Ever Meulen, or Loustal, their formal comics output is or has become secondary to their painting or illustration production.

[18] Bart Beaty pointed this “genius argument” making exceptions of the honored comics creators (Beaty 195-196).

[19] The different initiatives we discuss further in this paper take place in a larger context we can only mention here. Many attempts have been made in recent years to use comics to comment on an expanding array of topics, including fine art. In different segments of the comics field, comics deal with fine art history and creators, through biographies (on this topic, see Groensteen, “Biographies), satire, and/or essays (for example, Dupuy 2016). Echoing these efforts, cultural institutions such as the Louvre (see Flinn) or the Orsay museum have built partnership with comics publishers (chiefly, Futuropolis) to produce some institutional imprints, in which comics creators present their own views—sometimes fantastic, sometimes realistic—of the museums and of their collections.

[20] Zep’s edition took place between March and October 2016. Zep followed the electronic pop band Air in 2014 and Interduck (an art collective revisiting art history through the figure of Donald Duck) in 2015.

[21] At the same time as Zep’s Open Museum, a similar but smaller exhibition took place in Paris. L’art et le Chat (February 2016 – January 2017) was organized by the children’s museum Musée en herbe and focused on the Belgian cartoonist Philippe Geluck and his cat character Le Chat. Cartoons, drawings and artifacts humorously commented on famous works of art (presented as copies or as originals).

[22] This initiating role is mentioned in the legal credits of the first published book (Baudoin, Dali par Baudoin).

[23] The 2017 Winshluss collaboration with the State-funded regional contemporary art institution, the FRAC Aquitaine, is another illustration, but at a lower scale. The comics creator was asked to choose a work in the collection of the FRAC to produce a 32-page black and white comic in a comic book format. His Gang of Four book is based on Diane Arbus’s photograph of the same name. This took place within a larger regional event mixing comics and fine art, “Comics de repetition” (January – October 2017).

[24] The list can be consulted at

[25] In the book, Baudoin discusses several times the importance to Dali of his deceased older brother and his sexual difficulties as a young man.

[26] This reverential attitude (and its evolution) has been discussed by Martin Barker and Roger Sabin (qtd. in Baetens and Fray 202) as well as Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey (204) for the comics/literature relationship, especially in relation to adaptation. A similar comment was made regarding painting by Thierry Groensteen (“Biographies”).

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—. “L’auteur comme artiste polyvalent. La légitimité culturelle et ses figures imposées.” Le statut culturel de la bande dessinée – Ambiguïtés et évolutions / The Cultural Standing of Comics – Ambiguities and Changes, edited by Maaheen Ahmed, Stéphanie Delneste and Jean-Louis Tilleuil. Academia, 2017, pp. 185-204.

—. “L’artiste plutôt que son art: Ambivalence de la reconnaissance de la bande dessinée par l’exposition.” La reconnaissance à l’œuvre. Luttes de classement artistique, processus, ambivalence, edited by Laurence Ellena, Pierig Humeau and Fanny Renard. PULIM, 2017b, pp. 25-40.

Munson, Kim. “Beyong High and Low : How Comics and Museums Learned to Co-exist.” International Journal of Comic Art, vol. 11, no°2, 2009, pp. 283–298.

Musée d’Art contemporain de Lyon. “Quintet”. Press kit. 2009.

Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. “Crumb : De l’Underground à la Genèse”. Press release. 5 Dec. 2011.

Neutres, Jérôme. “Une fabrique de l’universel.” Hergé, Moulinsart, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, 2016, p. 27-29.

Passeron, Jean-Claude. Le raisonnement sociologique. PUF, 1991.

Picone, Michael D. “Comic Art in Museums and Museums in Comic Art.” European Comic Art, vol. 6, no°2, 2013, pp. 40-68.

Pizzino, Christopher. Arresting Development. Comics at the Boundaries of Literature. U Texas P, 2016.

Raspail, Thierry. “Quintet, l’expo.” Quintet. Glénat, Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, 2009, pp. 7-9.

Rosset, Christian. “Variations pour quintet(te).” Quintet. Glénat, Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, 2009, pp. 11-19.

Serres, Michel. “L’immortalité comme l’un des Beaux-Arts.” Hergé. Moulinsart, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, 2016, p. 25.

Sfar, Joann. “Monsieur Bonnard.” Pierre Bonnard: Peindre l’Arcadie, edited by Guy Cogeval and Isabelle Cahn. Musée d’Orsay, Hazan, 2015, pp. 143-149.

Worden, Daniel. “The Shameful Art : McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Comics and the Politics of Affect.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 52, no 4, 2006, pp. 891-917.

Exhibitions cited

Here are listed only the exhibitions included in the corpus of our analysis for this paper. Our corpus was focused on exhibitions in fine art museums, but on occasion, for argumentative reasons, some other institutions have also been mentioned. Due to our focus on fine art institutions, some important comics exhibitions were left out of our analysis here (exhibitions at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, at the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, at the National Library (BNF), and at the Centre Pompidou’s BPI library). Our corpus starts with the 2006 Hergé exhibition which can be considered as one of the exhibitions that started the contemporary trend of comics exhibitions in French fine art museums. We stopped our corpus in 2017, when we began our analysis for this paper. Thus, later exhibitions and their related publications remain out of our discussion.

Hergé. Centre Pompidou, Paris, December 2006 – February 2007.

Quintet: Blanquet/Masse/Shelton/Swarte/Ware. Musée d’Art contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, February – March 2009.

Vraoum! Trésors de la bande dessinée et art contemporain. Maison Rouge, Paris, May – September 2009.

Bande dessinée et art contemporain, la nouvelle scène de l’égalité. Biennale d’art contemporain, Le Havre, October 2010.

Moebius Transe Forme. Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris. October 2010 – March 2011.

Le voyage imaginaire d’Hugo Pratt. Pinacothèque de Paris, Paris, March – August 2011.

Quelques instants plus tardArt contemporain et bande dessinée. Couvent des Cordeliers, Paris, October – November 2012, Musée de la bande dessinée, Angoulême, Novembre 2012 – February 2013.

Crumb: De l’Underground à la Genèse. Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, April – August 2012.

Dali. Centre Pompidou, Paris, November 2012 – March 2013.

Dali par Baudoin. Musée de la bande dessinée, Angoulême, November 2012 – March 2013.

Enki Bilal: Les Fantômes du Louvre. Musée du Louvre, Paris, December 2012 – March 2013.

Winshluss: Un monde merveilleux. Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, April – September 2013.

Mécanhumanimal (Enki Bilal). Musée des arts et métiers, Paris, June 2013 – March 2014.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883): L’imaginaire au pouvoir. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, February – May 2014.

Doré & friends: Dessin, illustration, BD, cinéma. Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, February – May 2014.

Marcel Duchamp: La peinture même. Centre Pompidou, Paris, September 2014 – January 2015.

Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947): Peindre l’Arcadie. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, March – July 2015.

Je l’appelle monsieur Bonnard (Joann Sfar). Artcurial gallery, Paris, April 2015.

L’art et le Chat (Philippe Geluck). Musée en Herbe, Paris, February 2016 – January 2017.

Zep Open Museum. Palais des Beaux-Arts Lille, March 2016 – October 2017.

René Magritte: La trahison des images. Centre Pompidou, Paris, September 2016 – January 2017.

Hergé. Grand Palais (Galeries Nationales), Paris, September 2016 – January 2017.

Joann Sfar – Salvador Dali Une seconde avant l’éveil. Espace Dali, Paris, September 2016 – March 2017.

Machines à dessiner (François Schuiten, Benoît Peeters). Musée des arts et métiers, Paris, October 2016 – March 2017.

Comics Works Cited

Baudoin, Edmond. Dali par Baudoin. Centre Pompidou, Dupuis – Aire Libre, 2012.

Bilal, Enki. Les fantômes du Louvre. Futuropolis, Louvre Editions, 2012.

Dupuy, Philippe. Une histoire de l’art. Dupuis – Aire Libre, 2016.

Olislaeger, François. Duchamp: Un petit jeu entre moi et je. Éditions du Centre Pompidou, Actes Sud BD, 2014.

Sfar, Joann. Je l’appelle monsieur Bonnard. Hazan, 2015.

Sfar, Joann. Fin de la parenthèse. Rue de Sèvres, 2016.

Various. René Magritte vu par…. Centre Pompidou, Actes Sud, 2016. Contributions by David B. and Eric Lambé, Gabriella Giandelli, François Olislaeger, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Miroslav Sekulic-Struja.

Winshluss. Gang of Four. FRAC Aquitaine, 2017.

Zep, Open Museum, Palais des Beaux-Arts Lille, Editions Evenit, 2016.

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