EventsIdeas/Commentary

Hanna-Barbera Exhibit To Open At Norman Rockwell Museum

Here’s names that you rarely hear together: Hanna-Barbera and Norman Rockwell.

If you want an incongruous animation exhibit, get ready for “Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning,” which will open at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on November 12.

The exhibit will focus on the “golden years” of the Hanna-Barbera studio, which the museum identifies as 1957, the year that their first TV series The Ruff and Reddy Show premiered, to 1969, when Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! launched.

The exhibit will cover a lot of ground, according to the organizers:

Hanna and Barbera’s early work on Tom and Jerry will be explored, in addition to the scores of TV and film animation and live-action projects created by the studio between 1970 and 2005. Included within the exhibition will be original animation art, sketches, model sheets, photographs, archival materials, toys and other commercial products, and an interactive installation that will draw from the vast library of sound effects created by Hanna-Barbera.

Bill Hanna (l.) and Joe Barbera draw one another.
Bill Hanna (l.) and Joe Barbera draw one another.

Let me be the first to say that I think an exhibition on Hanna-Barbera is well deserved, and that it’s an idea with fantastic potential. But at first glance, this Rockwell exhibit does not appear to be the show they deserve.

The museum’s hagiographic and generic corporate description of Hanna-Barbera (not to mention the random uncurated selection of promo artwork) already makes clear that this is a pop culture show designed as a weekend distraction for families and baby boomers, not a critical artistic survey of the studio’s output or an assessment of their impact on the art of American animation, which has been significant, if not necessarily positive.

It’s a given that any museum show about animation in which the curators are reliant on either the approval or archival access of a corporation, in this case Time Warner, will not have a critical impulse. That’s because American corporations have never been interested in having animation viewed through any cultural or artistic prism; the corporation’s mission is to sell product, and cartoon characters are viewed by them as consumer products no different than a bottle of laundry detergent or a box of tampons.

For those of us who acknowledge animation as art, the result is constant disappointment, such as the aggravating, still-touring exhibit “What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones,” which somehow manages to reduce the genius output of Chuck Jones to little more than disposable pop culture.

Amazing animation exhibits are possible, but usually happen when the animation being discussed isn’t under lock and key of a corporate owner. For proof, look no further than “Metamorphosis: Fantastic Visions of Starewitch, Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay” (curated by Carolina López in Spain), an endlessly inspiring exhibit that opened up new pathways for understanding the animated films of its featured artists.

The Hanna-Barbera exhibit will run through May 29, 2017 at the Rockwell Museum.