Dennis and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, Bananaman, and the rest of the Beano gang are to take over Somerset House this autumn in a contemporary celebration of the world’s longest-running comic
This autumn, Somerset House presents Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, a major exhibition celebrating the weekly comic and a British cultural icon: Beano.
First released in 1938 and still crafted weekly from its home in Dundee, Beano has entertained and inspired across the decades, forming a lasting impact on the contemporary cultural landscape and, crucially, on today’s artists themselves.
And what’s the secret, you may ask? It’s simple, suggests Beano, by always applying the one rule: that rules should be broken.
The landmark exhibition will explore the relationship between Beano and other contemporary art pieces with unruliness and irreverence, through the eyes of the artists who embody the Beano sensibility of rebellion.
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules will feature original comic drawings, never previously seen in public, selected across its 4,000-plus editions (to date) and rare archive artefacts, alongside works from leading artists and designers, imbued with the same Beano spirit of breaking the rules.
Contributors include artists Bedwyr Williams, Hardeep Pandhal, Fourth Plinth artist Heather Phillipson, Holly Hendry, Lindsey Mendick, Sarah Lucas, Simeon Barclay and editorial cartoonist Martin Rowson.
Beano’s iconic cast – Dennis and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, Bananaman, Bash Street Kids, Billy Whizz and Roger the Dodger – have mastered the art of rebellion over the past 70 years, be it against convention, teachers or evil fruit supervillains.
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules will open with the Beanotown Museum, introducing the maverick creators behind Beano, charting how they came to create the original characters. The show then moves to uncover some of the comic’s recurring themes, which resonate with the exhibition’s cohort of contemporary artists and the comic’s many other fans.
Tackling topics such as Class, Education, Feminism and Art head-on, the exhibition will showcase contemporary works, including new commissions, will interact with the original strips to provide new perspectives on the comic.
The exhibition will go on to explore how Beano has powerfully penetrated alternative pop culture and closes with an interactive workshop space, inspiring all ages to encounter their own creative misdemeanours.
Ongoing gags, editor’s notes and larger-than-life recreations of the regular sights of Beanotown, from Bash Street School and Bunkerton Castle to the homes of Gasworks Road, will help visitors immerse themselves in the Beano universe.
Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules is curated by artist Andy Holden, a lifelong Beano fan. His artistic practice spans sculpture, large installations, painting, pop music, performance, and multi-screen videos, often using the allegory of the cartoon as a way to comprehend our contemporary landscape.
Holden said: “Both art and Beano are about being told to do one thing, then doing another: both require a creative solution. Beano was for me a gateway into comics and a love of drawing, and from there a springboard into a love of art.
“Beano’s irreverent sensibility is something that appeals to you as a child, but also, for some, never leaves you. To be able to present an immersive display of Beano’s history, and to examine its influence on art and culture is the curatorial equivalent of a Beano feast.
“The exhibition will bring Beanotown to life and populate it with a new set of resident maverick artists. In researching the show, almost every artist I’ve approached so far came back with yes, I loved the Beano and hopefully this exhibition will show how some of the themes that have run through Beano’s history are often the same ones that feed a creative, rebellious sensibility.”
Mike Stirling, editorial director, Beano Studios, said: “I warned Dennis that one of the pictures in his new show at Somerset House would make people laugh so hard, they risked fracturing their funny bones and he said, ‘That’s just a mirror!’
“Beano relishes making an exhibition of anyone who takes themselves too seriously and we can’t wait for families to enjoy what we have planned. Because without Art, the Earth would be just…Eh?”