I began reading MetaMaus because I was a fan of the Maus books. It is a very interesting read for anyone who wants in-depth information into the creation of and research behind Maus. There’s a reason why it took Art Spiegelman 13 years to create it—the amount of work to get the information and then distill it into workable graphic pages is incredible.
What’s much more interesting though is to read it as a treatise on media and the way we define, display, and approach art.
Much of the MetaMaus concerns the critical reception (both pre and post publication) that Maus received, and continues to receive. In short, many people don’t know what to do with it. Is it low art or just a low medium? Commercial art? Fiction? Biography?* Juvenile? Satire? And what does it mean about other comics? That Maus sits nicely between almost all possible labels we have for art makes it an interesting test case for how people like to curate things.
*I’ve classified it as a biography on my bookshelf.
While my post on Serious Art is about individual pieces, it could just as well talk about mediums. Maus is an extremely serious work in a non-serious medium.* We recognize it as art but have problems with fitting it into the rest of what critics dub to be serious.
*Once you are appropriated by Pop Art you’re essentially non-serious from an art point of view.
Spiegelman discusses many of the different ways which curators have tried to put Maus in context. Most of them end up being either patronizing* or just flat out wrong.** But it’s fascinating to see the thought process behind the exhibits. The attempts aren’t crazy, they just reflect that people don’t have the context required to curate it correctly. At the same time, I found it fascinating that it doesn’t even seem like anyone bothered to exhibit it by itself.***
*Bringing comics into a “high art vs low art” exhibition.
**Interleaving Vladek Spiegelman’s and Anne Frank’s location during the war.
***R. Crumb style.
A lot of the material in MetaMaus would have made a fantastic exhibition on its own accord. Instead of treating it as part of a comics exhibition or placing it in opposition to painting or other “high” arts, it could have stood on its own. As much as I say that context matters, the context doesn’t have to be other art.
MetaMaus, as a result, ends up being the curation for a stand-alone art exhibition on Maus. Read Maus first. Then read MetaMaus with Maus on the nightstand.