The building that houses the cultural services of the French embassy in New York is a grand Fifth Avenue mansion designed by Stanford White. Pirouetting at the center of the circular lobby is the only Michelangelo sculpture in the United States, a little cupid. The recent show “Graphic Novels from Europe” at the embassy included art that was a tad more contemporary, but no less international. Drawings by seven European graphic novelists hung on the walls of the stunning rotunda on the second floor, while the artists themselves, and their friends and supporters, drank anisette and studied the mostly black-and-white panels at the opening.
Among these were minutely detailed images (above) from German artist Isabel Kreitz—an excerpt from her book Die Sache mit Sorge, which takes a film-noir approach to the story of a real-life Stalinist spy who was based in Tokyo in the 1940s. Other offerings dealt with equally dark subject matter, from war to unsettling dreams: “I am in a taxi full of animals” writes French artist David B., as he begins a tale, in boldly graphic inky images, of a surreal dream-journey.
As the two Czech artists in the show, Jarolav Rudis and Jaromir 99, who are also in a band together, strummed their way through a set that mingled grunge with Eastern European melancholy, I found French cartoonist Nicolas de Crécy, dressed in black, standing at the top of the sweeping main staircase. He told me that this is his first visit to New York, and that he finds everything, from the lights to the architecture, “magnifique!” An admirer of Berenice Abbott, he was pleased to find that some of the city that she documented is still intact. De Crécy has a habit of inventing cities (“villes imaginaires”) for his comics—a charming cityscape hanging in the show is, he confirms, equal parts New York and generic European city. But he pointed out that the mating of Gotham and Europe is also very real. “There’s something European in New York, but on a giant scale,” he said. As graphic novelists milled around Stanford White’s glittering foyer, into which White poured European influence, not to mention actual European materials, one could see de Crécy’s point. CAITLIN DOVER