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
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
IT’S REALLY ALIVE
[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
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 about.com 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
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
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
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
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
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.