Richard McGuire

[…] The cosmic breath of McGuire’s mega-temporal journeys is always balanced by his mini-happenings of daily life.

Ludus in fabula

It was on the other side of the Rhine, at the Tinguely Museum, that through Öyvind Fahlström (exhibition Party for Öyvind, 2022) I learnt how comics were at the most innovative crossing point between visual poetry, performance and pop art in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, at the Cartoonmuseum Basel, I learn how Richard McGuire has been at similar multidisciplinary crossing point in the arts, only 20 or 30 years later: his comics’ side being pop art, again, but also post-punk music and film, design and magazine illustration. McGuire’s beginnings as a street artist in Lower Manhattan can give us an interpretative key, insofar as his drawings appear to serve concepts playing with both the drawn space and the space where the drawing works – be it a vinyl cover or a magazine. A performative touch that fits his multi-media task of combining music and comics, for example.

This leads to the medium film, which is actually my perspective as a film critic discovering the crowded rooms of the Cartoonmuseum at the opening of the exhibition. While McGuire speaks, I pass by a dark room showing the collective film Peur(s) du noir, and I cannot but think of another of its makers, Lorenzo Mattotti, recalling his 2016 masterclass in Locarno, which celebrated the perfect match of film and comics. And then – lupus in fabula – I do see Mattotti himself, sitting in the most remote corner of the Museum with his Tchaikowski’s beard. I almost feel myself in a performative version of one of McGuire’s infamous Here strips, where temporal boundaries are overcome. The cosmic breath of McGuire’s mega-temporal journeys is always balanced by his mini-happenings of daily life: to my eyes, Mattotti’s appearance in the room is the micro-catastrophé of the Basel exhibition, the unexpected touch making of McGuire’s multi-media “museum strip” a fabula waiting for its lupus.

“Here” I have the idea of “my” title for the Basel exhibition: “Ludus in fabula”. I mean, the title Then and There, Here and Now is already meaningful, hinting at McGuire’s constant occupation with space and time. However, my filmic eye makes me focus on the specific narrative of his multi-media works. With some of his strips, more than just storytelling, the narrative takes the form of an iteration of motives. More precisely, they are often abstract motives, resembling geometrical design, with an ambivalence that gives them a force of attraction. Thus, they develop into apparent stories, that tend to finally dissolve back into abstraction again. This specific narrative makes us experience the familiar images we recognise as coming out of sideral spaces, and going back there – somewhere – in a universe made of abstract signs. This experience carries an existential load, as well as a ludic one. This narrative describes nothing but the path of a game (equally coming out of nothing and going back to nothing), or a play made of design, a play made of ideas. McGuire’s comic fabula would not be a fabula without its unexpected touch of ludus – (almost) out of nothing. Ludus in fabula.


Richard McGuire | Then and There, Here and Now | Exhibition | Cartoonmuseum Basel | 8/6-3/11/2024

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Photo: Derek Li Wan Po © Cartoonmuseum Basel

First published: July 04, 2024