Steve Brodner’s political satire gets viewers to laugh, then think

The Norman Rockwell Museum’s latest exhibition, “Raw Nerve! The Political Art of Steve Brodner,” cou

The Norman Rockwell Museum’s latest exhibition, “Raw Nerve! The Political Art of Steve Brodner,” couldn’t be more timely. Through Oct. 26, visitors can get a look at recent political history up to the present through the lens of political illustrator Steve Brodner.

“Raw Nerve!” is the first major museum exhibition for Brodner, who, since the late 1970s, has been delighting and inciting the American public with his illustrations in major publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

Charles Sable, curator of the exhibition, has included more than 100 of Brodner’s original works in the exhibition, including some of his most recent ones. “It’s so of the moment, and he captures the spirit of a particular moment in time. So you want to keep the show as current as possible,” Sable said.

Brodner identifies himself both as a political illustrator and an art journalist. As political illustrator, he comments on people and issues of the day through his drawings. He says the great function of the political illustrator is to get people thinking, whether they like or hate the illustrations themselves. “We’re like canaries in a coal mine; when things are getting especially hairy, you hear from the satirists, and that helps to continue the debate,” he said.

‘Raw Nerve! The Political Art of Steve Brodner’

WHERE: Norman Rockwell Museum, Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass.

WHEN: Through Oct. 26. Daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

HOW MUCH: $12.50 adults, $7 students, free for ages under 18.

MORE INFO: (413) 298-4100, ext. 220, or

About 75 percent of his process in creating political illustrations is sketching, and one section of the exhibition is dedicated to that. He describes illustration as “problem solving,” that is, finding the best form for an idea. “It’s by doing a lot of sketching before you do a finished piece that you enter into kind of a dialogue with yourself. It’s a way of looking at various solutions and entering into this conversation that you have with this blank piece of paper,” he said.

Shaping ideas

From those conversations come the fodder for the final illustration. “You’re continually sketching, reapplying ideas, transforming them, stretching them, recombining them, adding, subtracting, twisting, pulling and shaping until you finally arrive at a construction that really suits an idea best,” he said.

What sets Brodner’s satirical illustrations apart is his combination of metaphors of popular culture with political imagery, Sable said. For example, one illustration, “Lost at Sea,” that ran after Hillary Clinton lost 10 straight primaries, shows the Clintons as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the movie “Titanic.” Barack Obama was the iceberg. Another piece, “The Bushanos,” incorporates elements of the HBO series “The Sopranos.”

Visitors will see this combination of popular culture and political issues interspersed through the exhibition, in sections including “The Presidents and Their People,” “Events that Define a Presidency” and the 2008 presidential campaign. Sable points out that Brodner comments on all, regardless of political affiliation. “Yes, he’s hard on the Bushes, but he’s equally . . . hard on the Clintons,” Sable said. Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, and John McCain are also included.

“Raw Nerve!” features an illustration that never appeared in print because Time magazine thought it was too inflammatory. It shows a drawing of Osama Bin Laden’s 50th birthday party, where he is sitting in front of a birthday cake, wearing a party hat and smirking. Behind him on the wall, is Vice President Cheney as a pin the tail on the donkey and President Bush as a piñata.

In the defining events section, Brodner covers particularly memorable issues and events, such as the time leading up to the war in Iraq and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The exhibition also includes illustrations about the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but those fall into another category, art journalism. The exhibition explores the differences between that and satire.

Art journalism may or may not have satirical elements, and such illustrations examine some heavy issues such as the plight of the American farmer and urban gun violence.

As an art journalist, Brodner has covered a variety of events through series of illustrations, including eight political conventions, climbing Mount Fuji, the Bob Dole presidential campaign, and the Million Man March. He does interviews and research and then combines those with his illustrations.

The show includes two series around the events of 9/11 — “Ground Zero” and “Missing.”

“Steve was very strongly affected by 9/11,” Sable said. He wandered the streets of lower Manhattan after the terrorist attacks and sketched the witnesses. The drawings in “Missing” are images he created based on the photos that were hung at Ground Zero. “They’re very, very emotional images,” Sable said.

What gives this exhibition its timeliness are the images of Brodner’s work from the past six months, as well as touch screens that allow visitors to access his page at that show his up-to-the-minute work.

Video installation

Also included is a video installation, showing the animated illustrations that he does with producer/director Gail Levin as part of “The Naked Campaign” for The New Yorker. It features three- to seven-minute videos that Brodner and Levin create every two weeks for the publication’s Web site.

Also included in this show is a vintage voting machine in which visitors can vote in a mock election.

Another part of the exhibition compares Rockwell’s portraits of past politicians with Brodner’s caricatures of current ones.

Brodner hopes that visitors will like “the freewheeling sense of commentary” that comes through in his illustrations. Sable thinks visitors will enjoy the humor. “Some of them are laugh out loud,” he said.

In addition, he says visitors will appreciate the beauty and creativity of Brodner’s illustrations.

Categories: Life and Arts

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