Exhibit explores the absurdity of ‘The Simpsons’

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By John Larson
jlarson@tacomaweekly.com

For more than 30 years, “The Simpsons” have poked fun at the day-to-day happenings of family unit while offering occasional observations on American society in general. A new exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum provides a look into the creative process involved in the writing and animation of the cartoon series. “Bart at TAM: Animating America’s Favorite Family” displays animation used over the course of many years, allowing viewers to examine slight changes in the landscape of Springfield and the people who inhabit it.

Stills of Kwik-E-Mart show slight changes of the exterior of the store, with the design and color scheme of the sign slightly altered from the older to the newer version. A close look at the Lard Lad Donuts figure suggests it was inspired by the mascot for the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant chain in California.

A large banner above the front entrance of the elementary school is an example of the humor used in the series. It reads, “Tonight: School Recital,” and below it reads, “Tomorrow: Barbra Streisand Tickets Still Available.”

A still from 1999 depicts the couch gag element used in opening sequence. This shows the family members switched, with son Bart and daughter Lisa depicted as adults and parents Homer and Marge depicted as children.

Other characters in the show are featured as well. Ned Flanders, the Simpsons’ long-suffering neighbor, is depicted next to an emergency baptism kit. Mr. Burns, owner of the town nuclear plant, is shown next to a poster depicting himself hang gliding, with the words “I’m high on capitalism.” Another still depicts Homer and two co-workers at the plant attempting to extinguish a fire on a control panel with a bucket of water. Apu, the immigrant from India who owns Kwik-E-Mart, at times tries to adopt the cultural mannerisms of what he imagines a typical American to be. A still shows him wearing a cowboy hat, strumming a guitar and signing to a group of customers in his store.

A display case contains cel, or celluloid, images that are inked and painted. It has cels of several characters.

A script from the show is in another display case. The cover has handwriting from writers of the program, while a page from inside contains typed dialogue.

As an indication of the show’s importance to some art collectors, a painting by the artist Kaws of an album cover of songs from the show is displayed. The accompanying sign explains that the original artwork sold at auction for $14.8 million.

Proving cartoons can be educational as well as entertaining, the TAM Studio allows the whole family to explore the art of animation with hands-on activities. A series of special events will be held in connection with the exhibit. Cartoon trivia night will be held on Aug. 22 from 6-8 p.m. Museum visitors will be able to test their knowledge of cartoons from comic strips to television programs. “Bart at TAM” runs through Oct. 27.

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