We’re getting to the stage where we can start pencilling in visits to art exhibitions with some confidence that they won’t be suddenly cancelled by yet another lockdown (although I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed, just in case), and a good ‘un has just kicked off at Somerset House. Their autumn show for 2021 is titled Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, which celebrates the history, impact, and lovable rebelliousness of the 80-year-old comic series.
In fact, The Beano is the world’s longest-running comic, and has brought characters including Dennis the Menace, Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, Bash Street Kids, and Bananaman into the world. They’ve now taken over Somerset House, and in quite a unique way; the whole exhibition is set up as if audiences are stepping inside the pages of the comic. The show is curated by artist and lifelong Beano fan Andy Holden, and features editor’s notes, recreations of Beanotown sights, and plenty of cackleworthy jokes.
Meanwhile, there’s a wealth of original comic drawings (many never before seen in public) on display, drawn from the 4000+ editions of The Beano published since the first edition debuted in 1938. You can also expect contemporary works from artists including Hardeep Pandhal, current Fourth Plinth artist Heather Phillipson, Holly Hendry, Bedwyr Williams, and cartoonist Martin Rowson. They respond to themes of rebellion, irreverence, and rule-breaking, echoing The Beano’s commitment to breaking the rules, along with contemporary art’s status as a mode to question culture and norms.
Led by chief mischief-maker Dennis (who’s celebrating a 70th birthday this year), the characters of The Beano demonstrate an ingenious ability to bend or break the rules, a determination to which the exhibition pays tribute. Much like Somerset House’s lauded Peanuts exhibit from autumn 2018, this show charts how issues including class, education, feminism, and art are represented and challenged in the comics, creating a spirit of boundary-breaking that continues to inspire today. Plus – in a world where activism and standing up for one’s belief increasingly knows no age limits – The Beano demonstrates the resilience, wit, and creativity of children, an ethos very much alive today.
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules concludes with an interactive workshop space to inspire all visitors to “their own creative misdemeanours”, and maybe even awaken a little rebellious streak in all of us. Hey, as we all know, rules are there to be broken…
The exhibition runs until March 6, 2022. You can find out more here.
Also published on Medium.