Gallery Header

The Artist

Main Gallery

Sideshow Ephemera

Recommended Reading

Reviewers Comments


All Important Links

Contact Us

Reviewers Comments
on James G. Mundie's Prodigies

From Edith Newhall's 27 September 2009 review of Beautiful Human in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Beautiful Human at Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery focuses on a gentler, slightly more ephemeral branch of the figure revival. Its curator, Shelley Spector, has brought together six artists who use the human image as a cypher for goodness, integrity, and spirituality, and whose mostly simple means and materials match the modesty of their images...

Freaks populate James G. Mundie's careful pen-and-ink drawings of circus sideshow performers posed as art historical figures, and you feel a surge of sympathy and admiration for the underdog, portrayed so elegantly and empathetically here.

The entire review may be read here.


James Mundie's art merges the classical with the curious, and succeeds by capturing what is most human in the anomalous form. His Prodigies series of drawings should be seen by anyone interested in the history of freak performers. His beautifully designed site also contains a nice selection of vintage pitch cards, photos and histories of the performers.

Amanda McKenna's Arts Agenda Pick in the 14-20 September 2006 edition of Philadelphia City Paper:

Just Do it: “Congress of Oddities: James G. Mundie's Prodigies”

Admit it: We all enjoy a good freak show. Whether it's strange sightings on Jerry Springer or picking out weirdos along South Street, there's a mystery and thrill about seeing the unorthodox.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, prepare to see the most bizarre art show on earth: Artist James G. Mundie taps into our freak fetish with his current project, Congress of Oddities: James G. Mundie's Prodigies.

The portraits of real sideshow performers leave audiences gawking, but it's not just the subject matter that puts Mundie's freaks in a league of their own. In a genius move that toys with tradition, the artist has placed his bearded ladies and lizard men within the compositions of such famous artists as Goya and Holbein.

From Felicia Feaster's review of Step Right Up! Sideshow Wonders and Human Curiosities in the 17 August 2005 edition of Atlanta's Creative Loafing:

Carny art: Orange Hill Art celebrates the bravado of sideshows and freaks

...Step Right Up! Sideshow Wonders and Human Curiosities at Orange Hill Art is part art exhibition, part exegesis of the great native vernacular of freak showmanship with its maniacal exclamation points and use of reds as incendiary as a baboon's rump. Step Right Up! celebrates the ignoble but fun-as-hell tradition of separating chumps from their silver and gainfully employing the freaks, fakes, show-people and bottom feeders who made carny life a consummately American blend of advertising, faux education and buck-making...

Step Right Up! manages to put the fun back in freak without missing the element of tribute and reverence in its carny-artist fans. A collection of photographs featuring well-known freak show performer Johnny Eck is included in the exhibition, as well as Philadelphia artist James G. Mundie's moody chiaroscuro drawings of sanctified freaks.

A poet of understatement compared to his shrieking banner brethren, Mundie has created a gorgeous, bittersweet series of ink-on-paper drawings called "Prodigies," which combine the sober parables of religious painting and Renaissance portraiture with some of the stars of the midway. Referencing the hard road of showmanship, Mundie wrests poignance from a man gingerly appraising the deformed skeleton of the "Two-Headed Boy of Bengal" or the impossible love of "The Nova Scotia Giantess and the Lilliputian King."

In the process, Mundie acknowledges the subtext behind many contemporary freak show fans' devotion, of seeing the freak as metaphor for one's own outsider and misfit status.

From Jeffrey Day's review of Alive Inside: The Lure and Lore of the Sideshow in the 6 June 2005 edition of Charleston's The State:

Offbeat art off the beaten path: Creative concepts from the young and odd also flavor Spoleto


[A] good bet in Charleston is Alive Inside: The Lure and Lore of the Sideshow, on display at four locations around the city.

The show is the creation of Mark Sloan, director of the College of Charleston gallery, who often comes up with oddly themed exhibitions. Not all have been successful, the concept being better than the art. That’s not the case with Alive Inside, because the artists truly understand their subject matter...

James Mundie’s tiny, meticulous drawings portray (mostly) real sideshow performers. He gives them dignity by basing the compositions on paintings by Botticelli, Velazquez, Vermeer and other great artists of history.

Yes, it’s a very odd show but completely compelling. You’ll try, but you can’t look away.

From Helen South's review of James Mundie's Prodigies site on 21 November 2003:

There is a raft of reasons for visiting this... featured site, not least of which is the intriguing imagery and restrained technique of artist James G. Mundie...

Prodigies is weirdly spellbinding, juxtaposing familiar historical images and art with clever twists on the Victorian 'Freakshow'. Mundie is aware of the modern sensibilities which might misinterpret his art, which he explores in his discussion of the historical context. Individual pieces throughout the gallery are also accompanied by text with historical references...

Afficionados of good web design will also enjoy the Victorian sideshow metaphor sustained throughout the website, which is beautifully presented without sacrificing ease of navigation.

From The Crest, a publication of
the Woodmere Art Museum, Summer 2000:

Prodigies: Genius, paragon, phenomenon,
mutation or trick of nature?

These are small, intensely detailed pen and ink drawings. One needs proximity to gather the image. Once up close, the fine, exquisitely formed lines coalesce, and it registers just who the subjects of these formal portraits actually are - Siamese twins, bearded ladies, three-legged men. To put it delicately, they are "anomalous humans." But stated in the stark words of the human subjects themselves, they are "sideshow freaks."

The portraits are taken from actual people in history; then artist James G. Mundie utilizes his exceptional drawing technique, combined with old master figures and style, to create a strange and even contradictory vision. Grotesque, yet beautiful. Compelling and repelling at the same time. Tragic, yet they somehow seem to make you smile.

Mundie, a graduate of both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania , sees himself first and foremost as a printmaker. It was circumstances that brought him to pen and ink: he simply had no access to a printmaking facility at the time. Not only was pen and ink an unusual medium for him, portraiture in itself was not his usual subject matter. "I never thought of myself as a portraitist," observes Mundie, "but it has evolved. I find I am fascinated with trying to capture the personality as well as the [likeness]."

Prodigies. Are they genius, paragon, phenomenon, mutation, or trick of nature? You decide.

Introduction by Cathleen D. Chandler,
Woodmere Art Museum exhibition catalog, August 2000:

James G. Mundie at Creative Artists Network

In 1997, Mundie was selected by CAN’s Board of Artistic Advisors for a two-year service grant affiliation with the  organization... Initially exhibiting woodcut prints and paintings in CAN’s seasonal group shows, the artist quickly developed a selection of pen and ink drawings. Possessing a natural inclination for portraiture, his subjects included well-known to obscure figures from art historical contexts, as well as famous sideshow and circus personalities. Mundie’s work met with immediate success and popularity among collectors, as well as other exhibiting artists in CAN’s program.

Mundie’s ... Prodigies pen and ink drawings series has seemingly evolved into a family album of distinctive portraiture. His subjects have included a bearded woman, Siamese twins, an alligator-skinned man, a woman with three breasts and a [four]-legged dancing woman. Mundie's references for this series range from the obscure to the obvious. Viewers, for example, will recognize well-known subjects from art historical contexts including Edouard Manet's Olympia (1863) in Mundie's Olympia (Betty Lou Williams) (1999). Other figures in the series are based on famous paintings by masters such as Vermeer, Goya and Van Dyke.

Viewers of Mundie's Prodigies series will note the seemingly macabre figures which upon immediate viewing might inspire fear and trepidation. Upon closer view these figures lend themselves to curiosity, familiarity and beauty. Mundie's clever juxtaposing of the historical and factual with the bizarre and whimsical creates works infused with great sensitivity, reverence and humor. While the artist's presentation of these subjects has an almost formal structure and quality to them, one cannot dismiss the exquisiteness of these lovely creatures or the artist's painstakingly delicate use of the medium. We are compelled to empathize with these lovely beings.

The artist's execution of his subjects in pen and ink and the intimacy of their size suggest black and white portraits one might encounter in a family photo album from yesteryear. One might even be reminded of the nostalgic imagery from newsprint ads or a weathered carnival poster. Several images capture the likeness of being bathed in an ethereal white light lending themselves to an otherworldly charm.

Mundie's drawings satirically convey a serious message about the viewer's role as voyeur. We are permitted and forced to gaze upon the creatures, but are we to judge them for their differences and abnormalities? Mundie's subjects encourage us to address our own feelings, perceptions and prejudices of standardized beauty and our own humanity. The breadth of this [series] will allow the viewer to gaze, linger and absorb the sheer beauty and merciful execution of these enchanting and extraordinary creatures of James G. Mundie's Prodigies.

From Roberta Fallon’s review of the Delaware Art Museum’s Biennial Exhibition in the 19 April 2000 edition of
The Philadelphia Weekly:

Field Trip: Philadelphians represent at the Delaware Art Museum’s "Biennial 2000"

When the Delaware Art Museum’s curators searched the four-state region looking for the most groundbreaking art for "Biennial 2000," they came up with a show thick with Philadelphians. Oh, all right, it’s thick with Baltimorians and Wilmingtonians, too. But local artists - 22 of them - stand out in the crowd. "Biennial 2000" is a show without a theme, its more than 100 works representing all media. But thanks to a few thematic sub-groupings, the show flows and reverberates...

Seduction and excess pervade the work of... James Mundie. Mundie's virtuoso art history parodies of sideshow freaks drawn with extreme care are a repelling come-on.

From Roberta Fallon’s review of Fleisher’s Challenge 2 in the 26 January 2000 edition of The Philadelphia Weekly:

Hard Lines: Tender interludes aside, "Fleisher Challenge 2"
is nothing to cozy up to.

[Illustration text: Doublemint twins from hell: Works like James G. Mundie’s The Masters Tocci help give the Fleisher exhibit its twisted edge.]

Virtuoso drawing is the reason to stop by this month’s Fleisher Challenge exhibition. The three artists involved get a lot of mileage out of traditional figure-drawing techniques, and their work combines for a dark show leavened with touches of humanity and humor...

A decidedly different take on humanity emerges in James G. Mundie's grotesque art history drawings. If two-headed Gainsborough Blue Boys and bearded-lady Vermeer Seamstresses are your thing, you'll be right at home here. For Mundie, art is the greatest show on earth, and we are all voyeurs. His pen-and-ink drawings are chilly, oddball expressions of beauty...

From Edward Sozanski’s review of the Challenge 2 exhibition at the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial
in the 23 January 2000 edition of
The Philadelphia Inquirer:

No dearth of admirers for the human figure:
At Fleisher, figurative art confirms its staying power.

Drawing the figure has long been considered the foundation of art making; at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts it still is. It’s comforting to realize that after a century’s worth of modern and postmodern art, which have enriched artistic expression immeasurably through a steady stream of radical innovations, the figure continues to inspire young artists and delight art audiences.

This thought struck the other day when I dropped in on the Fleisher Art Memorial to see the second of this season’s four Challenge exhibitions. The show features three examples of figurative art, which pops up frequently in the Fleisher shows. The three artists... pursue divergent objectives, but as a trio they offer a persuasive demonstration of figurative art’s staying power. Its appeal persists for several reasons. For one thing, it’s both subjective and objective. The figure represents people with histories to which we can relate generally, and sometimes specifically. We also savor skillful figurative work for its technical proficiency and its ability to re-create the essence of a difficult subject...

James G. Mundie's figures won't remind you of your childhood or your Uncle Max or the man sleeping in a doorway that you saw on the way to work. His characters are mainly what in less politically correct times were called freaks, but which he describes as "anomalous humans." They're often grotesque, to be sure, but they're also drawn, in pen and ink, with an astonishing facility that in an odd way makes them sympathetic rather than objects of morbid curiosity.

The series, which Mundie calls "Prodigies," includes drawings of Siamese twins, bearded ladies, hermaphrodites, three-legged men, a giant woman holding a little person, and an elegantly dressed woman with three breasts. Viewers schooled in art history will notice that some figures are based on famous paintings by masters such as Vermeer, Goya and Van Dyke. Masters Tocci , a drawing of Siamese twins dressed in a velvet suit, vaguely suggests Gainsborough's The Blue Boy.

Initially, Mundie's drawings attract attention more for their technique than their subject. His delicate, exquisitely detailed touch with the pen produces images that display the soft, subtle tonalities of aquatint or lithographic prints. Only after soaking up the alluring physicality of the images does one consider the depictions, which, as noted, puts a humanistic, even humorous, face on a mildly taboo subject.

By inserting his subjects into historical contexts, Mundie tests his audience's tolerance for aberration. His beautiful renderings of bizarre figures transform them from sideshow performers into empathetic characters. Through the magic of his hand, these figures become mirrors of our own attitudes about "the other." How we respond to these genetic anomalies becomes the measure of our own humanity.

That may be a lot of baggage to impose on a suite of drawings, but no one expends this much effort just to make people smile. At least I hope not.

Home Page

return to

All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2003 - 2010