Earlier this month, conceptual Danish artist Jens Haaning proved that the art world shouldn’t take itself so seriously. When Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg loaned him the equivalent of $84,000, they were expecting him to create one of his signature ‘framed cash’ artworks. However, when Haaning delivered the work to the institution, he came to them with two blank canvases titled, Take The Money and Run. Museum CEO Lasse Andersson reportedly noted that he ‘actually laughed when [he] saw it’. Provoking outrage across the globe, Haaning has been dubbed both a comical genius and a criminal mastermind. Either way, it is safe to say that Haaning can find comedy in the authoritarian nature of contemporary art.
In light of Haaning’s comical stunt, we look at seven artists who are proving that art can be funny as well as collectable.
British artist and writer Harland Miller is renowned for his humorous reimaginings of Vintage Penguin book covers. Although the titles of his books are comedic in their own right, the true wit of his artwork lies in the vast juxtaposition between the gravity of the Penguin format and the levity of his absurd titles. Alluding to unwritten literary greats, Miller prompts the viewer to write their own story. From I’m So Fucking Hard to Blonde But Not Forgotten, Miller’s works are as tongue-in-cheek as they are collectable and has piqued the interest of celebrities across the globe, including Ed Sheeran, George Michael and Elton John.
HARLAND MILLER, ARMAGEDDON, 2017
Starting their career under the fictional guise of ex-cult members Brendan and Franklyn Connor, The Connor Brothers are known for their amusing artworks that explore contemporary Western society. Taking existing publications and artworks and transforming their meaning, the duo’s work is known for its sardonic tone and arresting visuals. This year, the artistic pair are celebrating their ten-year anniversary with a monumental exhibition, entitled A Load Of Fuss About Fuck All and taking place across all three Maddox gallery locations. Exhibiting unseen works as well as being their largest exhibition to date, the show promises warmth and wit in equal measure.
THE CONNOR BROTHERS, VICE VERSA, 2020
Known as the prankster of the art world, anonymous graffiti artist Banksy creates artworks that are politically pertinent as well as funny. From sneaking an artwork into the British Museum to shredding a print at auction, Banksy is an artist that has always disobeyed the constraints of the contemporary art world. His sought-after prints poke fun at often revered subjects, including the police, the military and the increasing commercialisation of our society. Demand for his witty works have sky-rocketed over the past decade, demonstrating that comedic works should be taken seriously.
BANKSY, FESTIVAL (DESTROY CAPITALISM), 2006
Deemed one of the most influential pioneers of Conceptual art, Mel Bochner is celebrated by art critics for his disavowed allegiance to a singular medium. However, outside of the critics’ circle and amongst collectors, Bochner’s praise more often stems from the sheer silliness and delight inspired by his witty thesaurus paintings. Now a key element of his oeuvre, his synonym canvases utilise language to illustrate the humour that lies latent within the English language, exposing the absurdity of a dialect riddled with idioms and cryptic phrases.
Weird, wonderful and downright bizarre, no artist injects humour into their creations quite like British artist David Shrigley. Spanning a plethora of mediums and subjects, Shrigley’s body of work is united by its uncanny hilarity. Leaving conspicuous comedy at the door, Shrigley opts for obscurity, leaving the viewer wondering what they are truly laughing at or if they ever even got the joke at all. His quirky humour makes sport of the art world and its serious disposition, adding a comedic element to works that are, by nature, somewhat profound.
Providing a playful take on art history, Scottish contemporary artist Ross Muir proves that the historical canon of Western art can be comedic as well as iconic. Taking the recognisable artworks of Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso, Muir recreates them for a modern audience, adding trappings of 21st century life like a Gucci belt or Adidas tracksuit. Contrasting the gravity of canonical works with light-hearted captions and familiar logos, Muir’s work readdresses the notion that classic art history is antiquated and inaccessible.
ROSS MUIR, THEY TOOK THE BAIT, 2021
Combining the worlds of internet culture and fine art, Chaumeton’s artworks are vibrant, eye-catching and peppered with in-jokes that capture the bizarre nature of internet humour. From spiderman memes to classic kid cartoons, Chaumeton’s kaleidoscopic arrangements have something for every person to laugh at. Whether captured by a comedic array of seemingly unrelated characters or the expressive features on their face, beneath Chaumeton’s light-hearted compositions lies a deeper inspection of the effects of internet culture as a whole.
SEBASTIAN CHAUMETON, THE MARES OF DIOMEDES, 2020/2021