Artist curates MAD magazine-inspired exhibit, opening at the Vanderelli Room on Friday

About a year ago, artist and curator Jay Mueller asked the Vanderelli Room to hold space this month for an art exhibition inspired by MAD magazine.

“Its original intent was just to be a regular art show,” Mueller said. “I wanted to pay tribute to what I thought was going to be an American institution that would outlive us all.”

Then, in July, the magazine announced that after 67 years it would stop publishing new content aside from year-end specials. Though MAD subscribers will still get vintage editions mailed to them, the magazine will disappear from newsstands.

And so Mueller’s show transformed from tribute to memorial, although the tone of the exhibit is anything but dour. Like MAD itself, the pieces from “It’s a MAD World After All,” which opens Friday, Dec. 13, are playful, satirical and often pointed. The opening reception will feature music from Robert Raymond Holmes Jr. and Hugs & Kisses, and the Vanderelli Room will also collect money for Topher Guenther and Arianna Leigh, both of whom were hit by cars while biking in recent months.

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More than 14 artists contributed to the show, including Ben Lamb, Bob Starker and Roger Williams, and while Mueller didn’t give parameters other than that the work should be MAD-inspired, many pieces prominently feature the magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, and the two agents from the comic strip “Spy vs. Spy.”

Mueller’s history with MAD goes back to his childhood, when he was drawn in by the magazine’s artwork. “I didn't get all the jokes. But I liked how funny and goofy it was, and that it was something you could do with art outside of fine art,” said Mueller, a lifelong subscriber who has Neuman’s face tattooed on his hand. “It's something that brings together a whole bunch of different generations. My dad and I bond over MAD magazine all the time.”

Of course, no exhibition celebrating the art of lampooning would be complete without some jabs at the current president, who shows up several times in the works hanging on the black walls of the Vanderelli Room. One drawing depicts President Trump picking his nose while wearing a “Make America Gooder Again” hat. Nearby, a black leather jacket with a painted back manages to reference “A Clockwork Orange,” the impeachment inquiry (“I want no quid pro quo”) and another twist on the MAGA slogan: “Make America MAD Again.”

Only one piece directly references the end of the magazine’s print era: a painting replicating the magazine’s cover, but with a decapitated head of Alfred E. Neuman and the publication’s three signature letters replaced with a fitting memorial: SAD.