If you think of “The Simpsons” (or perhaps “Fritz the Cat”) as the outer limit of grown-up cartoons, the films in a new exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York might come as an eye-opener. Animation has its own avant-garde tradition, which ranges from the explicit to the political to the weird, united by an exuberant inventiveness. California brothers John and James Whitney produced pioneering abstract animation beginning in the 1940s, for example, aided by a homemade analog computer built from a decommissioned World War II anti-aircraft device.
The show, “Adults in the Dark: Avant-Garde Animation,” starts tonight, and demonstrates that a remarkable range of grownup experimentation has thrived around the borders of the kid-friendly medium almost from the start. If you aren’t planning on being in New York anytime soon, you can assemble your own makeshift version of the festival on YouTube. Check out James Whitney’s 1957 “Yantra” (for which he spent five years punching patterns in 5” by 7” cards with a pin), or “Sesame Street” animator Sally Cruikshank’s trippy 1975 short about two ducks and a robot at an amusement park, or Martha Colburn’s 2009 jubilant collage sequence celebrating a woman’s first sexual relationship after a mastectomy.
[Image: detail from "Face Like a Frog" by Sally Cruikshank, courtesy of the artist.]
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