"Hansel and Gretel is one of those irresistible stories," says artist-author-playwright Jules Feiffer. "As a kid in the forties, I listened to fairy tales on a radio show called 'Let's Pretend.' And every year at Christmas the Met did Hansel and Gretel. I listened to the syrupy tones of Milton Cross. I got very excited — and even as a kid I wanted to do a cartoon."
This month, Feiffer gets his chance to do just that as one of a number of artists contributing Hansel-inspired works for a new exhibition in Gallery Met. In a unique collaboration, artists from The New Yorker and other leading figures from the contemporary art scene have created illustrations, paintings, and sculpture inspired by the Met's new production of Humperdinck's beloved opera based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The works are currently on view in the Met's exhibition space, and many of them also appeared in a portfolio in a recent issue of The New Yorker.
"The Hansel and Gretel story is one of our darker fairy tales," says Gallery Met director Dodie Kazanjian, who curated the show together with Fran‹oise Mouly, the magazine's art editor. "Its complex and often frightening overtones have fascinated both children and adults for centuries. On the occasion of the Met's new production, I thought it would be intriguing to invite these artists, whose range and originality are so justly famous, to offer new visual interpretations of the old story."
The featured artists form a who's who of New Yorker legends and top contemporary artists. In addition to Feiffer, the magazine is represented by Roz Chast, Ian Falconer, Ana Juan, Ed Koren, Anita Kunz, Christoph Niemann, Lou Romano and Owen Smith. Other artists whose work is on view include George Condo, John Currin and William Wegman.
"New Yorker artists are known for their wit and sophisticated approaches to visual narratives," says Mouly. "They are the perfect foils to bring out the charm and humor lurking in the dark recesses of this deeply resonant fairy tale."
In Feiffer's case, it was the lost-in-the-woods angle that captured his imagination. "All my life I've suffered from no sense of direction," the artist says with a laugh. "So I love the idea of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way home. And if you're doing a cartoon about breadcrumbs, the next question is, Who's eating them? It seemed boring to do just birds, so I had other animals, with a lion at the very top of the piece. [See below.]
"What instantly comes to mind for a lot of people are the Witch and the oven and the gingerbread house. But I've always been fascinated by the breadcrumbs."