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Not Exactly SpongeBob

Posted by Ruth Graham  September 27, 2012 02:40 PM

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adult animation cropped.jpg

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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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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