The New York Public Library is currently hosting a major exhibition, “Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity”, its focus on English essayist, parodist and caricaturist Sir Max Beerbohm – or just “Max,” as he came to be known.
Sir Henry Maximilian Beerbohm (24th August 1872 – 20th May 1956) first became known in the 1890s as a dandy and a humorist. He was the drama critic for the Saturday Review from 1898 until 1910, when he relocated to Rapallo, Italy. In his later years he was popular for his occasional radio broadcasts. Among his best-known works is his only novel, Zuleika Dobson, published in 1911. His caricatures, drawn usually in pen or pencil with muted watercolour tinting, are in many public collections.
Running until 27th January 2024, in person and online, “Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity” reveals how this troubled creator felt the uneasiness about the power of celebrity that many of us feel today.
As the NYPL website notes, Max Beerbohm longed to be a celebrity himself: to be admired and sought after, to earn money and wield influence. From an early age, he fashioned an instantly recognisable public persona as a sophisticated London dandy in beautifully tailored suits. (This was unchanging, from his first success as a writer and caricaturist in late-Victorian London through his career as a BBC radio personality in the 1930s and 40s.)
At the same time, he was aware of the dangers that cultlike worship posed. He worried, too, that unrelenting pursuit of popularity could destroy both art and its makers.
Beerbohm’s way of dealing with this conflict was to become famous for pricking the balloons of those who were famous. He parodied their writings. He exhibited and published caricatures making fun of their physical appearance. He produced essays and reviews that were amusing but sharply critical. He wrote comic fiction about people obsessed with becoming celebrities or being with them. Whatever he admired, he also questioned and mocked, including the concept of celebrity.
“Today, he offers an example of how art can address the world around us, yet also stand apart, especially through laughter,” say the exhibition organisers. “Contemporary comic writers, social commentators, and graphic novelists who deal in irony, visual humour, and pointed satire stand on his shoulders (though he would have asked them politely to stand somewhere else).
This exhibition has been organised by The New York Public Library and curated by Margaret D. Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware, and Mark Samuels Lasner, Senior Research Fellow, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press, with the assistance of Julie Carlsen, Assistant Curator, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library.
• “Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity” runs until 27th January 2024 | The Wachenheim Gallery in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, commonly known as the Main Branch, 42nd Street Library or the New York Public Library, 476 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10018, United States | Exhibition also online here
• Explore the full exhibition and listen to the audio guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app
• Zuleika Dobson: Max Beerbohm’s Satirical Tale of University Life: an Oxford Love Story
by Max Beerbohm | Kindle Edition | Paperback (AmazonUK Affiliate Links)
This witty and unconventional tale tells the story of Zuleika, a captivating femme fatale, and the chaos she incites when she arrives at Oxford University.
With thanks to Paul Gravett
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.