Snoopy still going strong after 70 years
Combining Snoopy with traditional Chinese lantern-making, a classic scene of Snoopy lying on the rooftop of his red doghouse in the middle of the exhibition hall switched on the light at the opening of the 7th Animamix Biennale at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai, bringing visitors back to the innocent world of the dog created by American cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1950.
Over the past seven decades, Snoopy, who has countless fans worldwide, has become arguably the most popular dog in the world. To celebrate Snoopy's 70th anniversary, the exhibition “What a Wonderful Day!” features not only Snoopy and his gang of friends in Schulz’s classic comic strip “Peanuts,” but also a cluster of modern-day artworks by 20 artists and groups from across China commissioned for this occasion.
Different types of media are used to create an immersive experience for the show, including paintings, sculptures, sound and videos, plus an Augmented Reality interaction in which viewers embark on an artistic adventure just by using their mobile phone to scan the AR codes at seven different locations in the museum.
As one of the most successful American comic strips of the 20th century, Schulz created a cast of characters that have captured hearts and imaginations of readers around the world. Love, hope and dreams are the eternal themes of “Peanuts.”
And it's not just children who love Snoopy.
“A former girlfriend gave me a Snoopy stuffed animal almost 30 years ago and he just kept tagging along,” said American expat David, 53, who lives in Shanghai. “To this day he’s my right hand man!”
Schultz was born in Minnesota in 1922. From birth, comics played an important role in his life. From the “First Encounter Series” on the day when Snoopy met Charlie Brown for the first time in 1950, Schulz wrote and drew every strip from its inception to its end with determination. He died on the day the last strip ran at the age of 77.
Against the backdrop of contemporary art — which fuses animation, fashion and digital technology — the highlight of this exhibition indeed goes to the cultural contrast and similarities between Chinese and those in the Snoopy stories.
The classroom setting is one of the most signature scenes in “Peanuts” where funny stories often happen. Artist Xu Min recreated this classic scene “The second” with his style of sculpture that invites visitors to walk into and interact with Charlie Brown and his little red-haired girlfriend — reminiscent of puppy love on campus during one’s adolescence.
“I think all of us can relate somehow to unrequited love,” Schulz once said of his character Charlie Brown, undoubtedly the alter ego of the author himself . “We have all fallen in love with somebody across the crowded room and never met the person.”
Artist Liu Jiachen recalled her first childhood piggy bank was in the shape of Snoopy. She believes fabric is a carrier of time and memory. As such, she used different textiles as a clue to represent the traces left by the cartoon characters. Her installation “Where is Your Happiness?” in the form of a photo frame laments the loss of innocence as one grows up.
In 1965 Schulz introduced Snoopy as a World War I Flying Ace. Dressed in a leather flying cap, goggles and scarf, Snoopy took to the sky atop his doghouse, which in his imagination transformed into a Sopwith Camel biplane. Inspired by Snoopy’s flights, artist Wu Jian’an creates a light-and-shadow space on the second floor of the space, titled “I’m the First Beagle landing on the Moon.”
The work shows naive and childlike self-praise and flaunting, as well as deliberate disparagement of others. It's like a mirror image of our time when we should have friendly relations and cooperation, but result in the childish rituals of humiliation and exclusion.
In the eyes of the artist Gao Qian, Snoopy is synonymous with joy, naughtiness and daydreaming. The artist reinterprets this classic image with gongbi (fine, meticulous line) Chinese painting. The fusion of traditional painting and animation is quite stimulating but full of challenges.
Snoopy was born in the mythical Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, so artist Yuan Yuan used daisies as clues in her works. Daisy means farewell and hope, which symbolizes Snoopy leaving his hometown to experience great adventures and go through the ups and downs of life with his friends.
Like Schulz, who always knew he would be a brilliant cartoonist. Despite the fact that he suffered many rejections, he finally realized his dream of creating a nationally syndicated daily comic strip when “Peanuts” debuted in seven newspapers on October 2, 1950.
In fact, “the author who was being rejected became braver after many failures, holding out hope and remaining true to his original intent,” said Yuan, who created this work to reexamine the symbiotic relationship between human beings and nature as well as other creatures against the background of the pandemic.
Cherie Wang is a 9-year-old girl who just published her first book about a dog named Splash with the Elephant Community Press — a creative writing workshop to make writing fun for children. An avid reader of fantasy stories such as Harry Potter, she doesn’t care much about Snoopy. For her, Snoopy is too old, but “old means classic,” her mother said.
But if ever she comes across the story of “Snoopy Traveling to China in Dream,” a short film production by Jiasi Lee, I'm sure it will capture her imagination with Snoopy falling into a daisy dump hole while sleeping on top of his doghouse. He wakes up to find himself on the Great Wall of China. To his amazement, the magic doorway to the watchtowers open one after another, taking him on a real adventure across different cities. When he returns, he confidently bangs out the famous first line of all his books, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Hopefully the 4-month exhibition, which integrates contemporary artworks with classic “Peanuts” moments, will provide a brand-new experience for visitors of all ages.
During the exhibition, the museum's rooftop cafe will feature a Snoopy menu for a picnic in the park, and limited edition Snoopy-inspired products will be on sale at the museum’s gift shop, offering a unique opportunity for both collectors and enthusiasts.
Later in the year, students majoring in design and innovation from Tongji University will draw on the latest ideas for the classic “Peanuts” comic strip from the perspective of Generation Z. Outstanding works, through both online and offline voting channels, will be put on a campus tour to reach out to a larger audience.
Dates: Through January 4, 2021; 10am-6pm
Venue: Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai
Address: Gate 7 People’s Park, 231 Nanjing Rd W.
Tickets: 80 yuan (half price for students and people over 70); free admission for children under 1.3m