Georges Seurat at The Metropolitan Museum

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Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow” is a major offering at the Metropolitan Museum this Spring in the Lehman Wing, which circles around to show not only Seurat’s own painting of “Circus Sideshow” in the late 1880s, but others by many compatriots of his day. This one painting gave rise to so many other artists who were inspired by the charm, grit, pathos and cartoonish qualities of the weird people, animals, musicians, barkers and other oddities of what has always, and probably always will be, the excitement, e.g., “the circus is in town.”

Now that most animals has been barred from circuses in the U.S. and Ringling Brothers has closed forever, there is a nostalgia creeping into our world that gives rise to remembering what this once “innocent” show of hilarity and human indignities meant to the world at large. Yes, we have Cirque de Soleil, but that is solely acrobatics and there are Olympics to showcase those incredible abilities these days.

We just attended an international horse show in Ocala, Florida where the Big Party for Saturday night was a CIRCUS, complete with Miss Natalia moving every gorgeous muscle on the metal circle high above the crowd, and jugglers, multiple hula-hoopers and other amazing athletic enterprises. (I mentioned to the owner of the farm who planned the event that CIRCUS was the major theme at the Met Museum to his great delight.)

We can all remember the innocence of the rides, the animals, the games and the funny people at The Circus, the music and the Barkers calling us to come and play. When you visit this exhibition, think of those voices. And Enjoy the Show!

Barbara Tober
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Posted: 02/24/17 by Ken Roman

Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece is the center of this marvelous exhibition at the Met Museum, which is so much more. Like other great museum exhibitions, it places the famous painting in context with its times. The subject, an outdoor teaser performance to attract customers to the main event, carries much of the circus imagery but does so in a way that was radical in its time. It is surrounded by Seurat’s spectacular crayon drawings of singers and dancers, Daumier drawings and lithographs of sideshow performers and biting caricatures of literary, musical and artistic figures of the day, newspaper cartoons and caricatures, musical instruments depicted in “Circus Sideshow,” a film clip of barkers encouraging circus goers, a stereopticon projection of a circus scene, not to mention a Rembrandt, a Rouault, and other Seurats. Best for us was the enormous panoramic “Grimaces and Misery – The Saltimbanques” (1888) by Fernand Pelez, a naturalistic and sentimental portrayal of performers. One walks out of this show reflecting on entertainment in the pre-television age.

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