Friday, January 4, 2013

But Is It Art?

Frith's final Muppet calendar took the concept of posing puppets in familiar cultural references and made it art.  Classic paintings were re-imagined with the Muppet gang and collected in a treasury known as The Kermitage Collection.  The attention to detail is quite grand, and each piece proves that a lot of effort went into what ultimately was going to be a brief joke.

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Moi

Piggy as Mona Lisa?  Fozzie as Henry VIII?  Gonzo as Whistler's Mother?  Sure, why not?  This is all just for fun anyway.

James Whistler's Arrangement in Gray and Black with Creep (Whistler's Weirdo)

But this collection highlights the bizarre relationship that artists have with the world.  When studying art history, scholars tend to look at how art influences and is influenced by the art of its time.  As the timeline grows larger, trends develop and evolve, with new styles emerging as outdated techniques become artifacts of their era.

Pablo Picasso's Pig Before a Mirror

So what happens when time continues to march on?  Us humans continue to add to our library of creation.  Art branches off from other art, resulting in a gigantic pool of variety.  Just look at the number of television channels we have and the number of shows each of those channels has produced.  We can be watching Downton Abbey one moment and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo a second later.  We've become desensitized to the various cultures we are bombarded with every day and that means we have to end up choosing our battles.  Are we going to be a Trekkie?  A Twi-hard?  A Brony?

Rodin's The Smooch

Yet even, through all of these decisions, some art becomes unavoidable.  Few may encounter the readings of Christopher Marlowe, but most have experienced Shakespeare in one form or another.  The canon that makes up our most "pop" of pop culture is an eclectic mix and it is difficult to determine what will stand the test of time.

Grant Wood's American Gothique

So when Sandro Botticelli sat down to paint The Birth of Venus in the late 15th century, how could he have possibly foreseen the lasting effect of his image?  Or that one day, a plush pig would take the spot of the goddess and be flanked by a frog and two heckling old men?

Botticelli's The Birth of You-Know-Who

When an artist creates something, he should not just assume that it will be compared to his contemporaries.  The published art is released into the world, and the world has EVERYTHING in it!  Yes, it's best to look at the context for the intended interpretations, but sometimes, art just becomes a part of the world, open for mockery and ridicule as well as thoughtful contemplation.

Rembrandt's Arisfroggle Contemplating the Bust of a Twerp

The original works of art were necessary to humanity's cultural growth.  The Muppets were as well, albeit, quite differently.  Are these parodies any better than the originals?  Any worse?  Or are they just as essential to the world?  Only time will tell.

Henri Rousseau's The Sleepy Zootsy

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Year of the Pig

In 1979, Muppet designer Michael K. Frith had an idea that helped establish the Muppets as a world-wide sensation.  Playing into the notion that Miss Piggy was destined for stardom, Frith and Oz decided to produce a series of calendars that highlighted the fashionable pig.  Personality calendars were not yet an established trend (supermodels and athletes wouldn't become the calendar fodder norm until the '90s), so the Miss Piggy Calendars were a special treat.  From 1980-1984, Frith commissioned five stellar photo shoots for the Muppet star.

Let us relieve Miss Piggy History, starting with 1980:

Ooh la la!

The first established the tone of Miss Piggy being an object of desire, placing her in iconic roles of beautiful women from history, film and art.

Piggy as Cleopatra

The only consistent theme was "beauty," which was new for the time.  Of course, talking about Miss Piggy as this pristine being is commonplace now, the joke having been hammered into our minds for decades.  But even so, the great photography by Nancy Moran and Donal Holway manages to capture Miss Piggy's softer essence, making these truly beautiful compositions.

I can't tell if this is seductive, or if Miss Piggy just fell down.

Next came "The Miss Piggy Cover Girl Fantasy Calendar" in 1981, featuring Piggy on a variety of magazine covers, emphasizing how her fame has grown.  Here, her relationship with Kermit comes more into play, with nearly every cover alluding to her love.  Some are obvious, like Modern Bride, while others are ridiculous, like Popular Mechanics.

How to Build a Frog That Won't Leave You

But the best are just the remakes of some classic images.  Sometimes, simple is better.

Well, as simple as gathering many frog puppets in one spot can be.

By paying homage to other artists, the calendar maintains a certain elegance and honor to the homages.

Norman Rockwell and the Muppets:  A Winning Combination

1982 put the pig-frog relationship front and center with "Great Lovers of the Silver Screen."  Taking classic, modern, and obscure films and giving them a Muppet twist is exactly what we've come to expect from the group.  Some movie pairings are obvious (Tarzan and Jane, Rick and Ilsa from Casablance, Superman and Lois Lane) but the greatest images are the ones you wouldn't expect.

Images like Flash Gordon,...

With a giant Rizzo!

...Annie Hall,...


...and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Kermit as Bottom!  This is my favorite.

Things took a turn for the meta in 1984, with "Miss Piggy's Calendar of Calendars."  By this time, the Piggy calendar fad was well-established, as were several other calendar trends from other companies.  So, it was time to spoof the other calendars.  Esquire pin-ups, the Wilderness Society, and Gnomes calendars were each reproduced with Piggy.  One would have to be a real calendar connoisseur to understand all of the references, but there are still some enjoyable images, regardless of the allusions.

Miss Piggy as a Coca-Cola pin-up girl harkens back to some of the earliest fad calendars of the early 20th century.

Note how "Coca-Cola" is cleverly disguised to avoid legality issues.

A spoof of Audubon's bird photography makes for an interesting composition.

With Kermit the Actual Frog!

And Miss Piggy as "Cochon" the Barbarian recreates the epic quality of fantasy art, for all you nerds.

 It doesn't get anymore awesome than this.

1984 saw Frith's last calendar, but, we shall save that for tomorrow as it involves much more than Miss Piggy and is quite rich in it's design.  So here is what effectively ended Miss Piggy's career as a calendar girl.  Miss Piggy's faux-celebrity may have gotten out of hand at times.  But it produced some quality art.  Even if it wasn't wholly original.

 Originality is overrated.