Renegade Humor

  • Image

    Roy De Forest
    Silas Newcastle Goes Down, 1966
    Acrylic on canvas, artist-made frame
    59 × 60 inches
    Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation in honor of Susan Landauer
    Photo: San Jose Museum of Art

  • Image

    Kathy Aoki 
    Various Political Paper Dolls (Wearing the Issues on Their Sleeves), 2012
                “Arnie’s Garb”
                “Obama’s Pajamas”
                “Color Me Palin”
                “Newt’s Suits”
    Steel, mixed media, canvas, and magnets
    Commissioned by the San Jose Museum of Art with support from The James Irvine Foundation
    Published by Magnolia Editions, Oakland
    Courtesy of the artist

  • Image

    Llyn Foulkes
    The Corporate Kiss, 2001
    Oil, acrylic, and mixed media
    31 ½ × 26 ¼ inches
    San Jose Museum of Art
    Gift of the Lipman Family Foundation in honor of the San Jose Museum of Art's 35th Anniversary

  • Image

    Walter Robinson
    Melt, 2008
    Styrofoam, wood, epoxy, metalflake
    32 × 96 × 48 inches
    San Jose Museum of Art
    Museum purchase with funds contribution by Jeffrey N. Dauber


Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.  
-Peter Ustinov

Bawdy irreverence, iconoclasm, parody, and puns are hallmarks of the work spawned by the art department at the University of California, Davis, in the 1960s and 1970s. In keeping with the counterculture of the time, the tone of this humor was often aggressive and transgressive. Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, David Gilhooly, Peter VandenBerge, William T. Wiley, and others took new artistic license with the Bay Area’s figurative traditions. They jettisoned what they viewed as the pretension of the East Coast art world and adopted an earthy approach wholly authentic to the West Coast. Their laid-back, flippant attitudes reflected the shifting values of the time and often belied deeper social messages. 

Similarly, subsequent generations of artists have enlisted the fetching power of humor to make a point. The narrative paintings of M. Louise Stanley, Robert Colescott, and John Bankston are populated by humorous, even wacky, characters, through whom the artists raise issues of gender, race, and sexual identity.  In Desire for the Other (2004), (a thirty-foot long, millipede-shaped red couch stuffed with household objects), Brian Goggin comments on our insatiable desire for “things.” Walter Robinson’s larger-than-life, hot pink and melting animal cookies point to the realities of global warming.  SJMA has invited artists Kathy Aoki and Imin Yeh to make new works, inspired by the notion of Renegade Humor, just for this exhibition. 

Also included are works by Ray Beldner, Squeak Carnwath, Enrique Chagoya, Llyn Foulkes, Viola Frey, Jane Hammond, Dennis Oppenheim, and Richard Shaw, among others. 

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James Irvine Foundation
McManis Faulkner