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Exhibition at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art showcases parodic spinoffs of Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’

Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 10:33 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - George and Martha Washington, the Clintons, and even SpongeBob SquarePants can all be found at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art for the next few months.

The museum’s “Seriously Funny: American Gothic Parodies” exhibition is open until May 2 and features parodic spinoffs of the famous Grant Wood painting.

The exhibition includes digital projections of dozens of parodies, along with magazine covers and newspaper clippings of political cartoons that are not usually on display.

“We’ve been gifted quite a collection of them over the years, so really it was going down through our archives and just going through those and seeing which ones spoke to me the most,” said Kate Kunau, the museum’s associate curator of collections and exhibitions.

While the original Grant Wood painting, depicting Wood’s sister and his dentist, permanently resides at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art thought the exhibition would be a fun way to celebrate the most famous work of an artist from eastern Iowa and mark the museum’s own 125th birthday, which occurred last year.

Next to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the museum said American Gothic is one of the most parodied paintings in history.

“A curator from the Art Institute of Chicago speculated that it’s kind of the blank expressions on both of the characters’ faces that just lends itself to overlaying other things because there isn’t a real emotion that we can attach to them,” Kunau said.

But Kunau’s theory is that the painting’s specificity has lent itself to imitations.

“Because it’s two people who have kind of become a shorthand for mid-American values or rural American values or kind of the average American, so I think it’s become a really rich area for putting your own interpretation on it or using it as a shorthand for talking about America,” she said.

Some selections in the exhibition offer glimpses into mindsets of the past; others are much more timely, like an “American Quarantine” illustration featuring the iconic man and woman masked up and wielding a can of Lysol and a roll of toilet paper on a pitchfork.

“The earliest one I have found is from 1944, when one of the artists from kind of the golden age of Disney did a Donald and Daisy Duck parody of it,” Kunau said.

Kunau said political cartoons are one of the most popular subcategories of parody — a fitting tribute for a painting by an Iowan.

“If Grant Wood was alive, I think he’d be really excited to see it’s still such a touchstone for people, and it’s still such a part of so many different conversations,” Kunau said.

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