Seurat’s Circus Sideshow

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Circus-Sideshow-by-Georges-Seurat

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.

Ken Roman

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