Ten’s To Do: Good Grief, Charlie Brown! at Somerset House
Two black dots, some thin, curved lines and a lot of silent sarcasm. That’s Snoopy, a cartoon dog that happened to single-handedly dried out my personal sense of humour twenty or so years ago. And I’m pretty sure it’s not just mine, as it happens to be that he’s now one of the stars of the latest Somerset House exhibition. Good Grief, Charlie Brown! is a showcase of the global influence comic strip Peanuts had on everyone from clueless mid-century children to the best artists of the world today. As soon as it premiered in nine newspapers on October 8 1950, the strip became an instant hit. Created by Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts was a mundane take on the state of the world without being specific or pointing fingers, an intelligent exploration of a totally new, satirical point-of-view. In Schulz’s own words, it was “about nothing” yet it meant everything to so many. Children laughed at the daily troubles of Charlie Brown and Lucy, Schroeder, Woodstock, Snoopy and the rest of the gang, while their parents read over heads, sniggering to themselves at the bigger picture the cartoon was painting.
And that’s just the household influence Peanuts had in the 50 years it ran in the Sunday papers. This is what the ground floor of the Somerset House exhibition focuses on – the art behind the making of the strip. Starting with Schulz’s childhood, it looks at what happened before Snoopy was born and the makings of the artist behind the idea. As the exhibition enters the Peanuts era of its creator’s life, a sense of euphoria takes over. It’s clear to see, even decades after the interviews were filmed and the strips are drawn, how everyone loved them. And the’re still as sharp as they were on that Sunday in 1963. Every joke lands without missing a beat, proving just how genius the writing behind it was.
As you step onto the first floor, the legacy of Peanuts takes centre-stage. Between the global paraphernalia and the multimedia artwork, the space becomes a haven for all the fans of the story. There’s new commissions from contemporary artists as well as some archival exhibits, proving the longevity of the spirit Schulz created so many years ago. A special corner for us fashion heads features a selection of multicoloured Peanuts sweatshirts on-loan from Dior’s Kim Jones personal archive that sit along some first-edition books. Even if you’ve never read a single Peanuts strip, this long corridor will make you feel like you went to school with Charlie Brown.
Despite being dedicated to Peanuts, it’s important to say that this exhibition is not about a cartoon. It’s about the changing nature of the society it existed in and about 50 years of cultural conversations that influenced on those who grew up listening to them. As you exit from the exhibition space, a small drawing workshop with piles of tracing paper and some classic Peanuts scenarios permanently stamped on light boxes sit in the middle, giving you a chance to become Charles M. Schulz for those couple of minutes. And after you realise how far you are from achieving the success of this genius, one of the most fabulous gallery gift shops will offer you a helping hand as well as a solid consolation prize. For this special occasion, the team at Browns commissioned seven artists to create colourful merch with all the fave characters popping up on water bottles, tote bags, notebooks and skateboards. Snoopy sleeping on the back of your board? We’ll take it to our local bowl as soon as we get it. It’s one of those collectable moments that will most definitely end up in the next big Peanuts retrospective, fifty years from now. Good Grief, Charlie Brown – get yourself to Somerset House!
Good Grief, Charlie Brown! is on display until March 3rd 2019 at the Somerset House with special events, talks and tours available. Find more information and book tickets online.