Nation readers who have admired the drawings, covers and cartoons of Edward Sorel, appearing in the magazine over more than thirty years, should not miss the comprehensive exhibition of Sorel’s work now on view at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, as part of their Masters Series. Writing in the show’s catalogue, artist James McMullan calls Sorel “the greatest satirical artist of our time,” to which he prudently adds, “but knowing Ed, I’m sure he will insist on a rebuttal.”
This congenital contrarian’s finest work of sixty years is displayed, from his cover drawing, for the January 1943 Quill, of PS 90 in the Bronx to the full-page caricature of a soulful, doleful Oscar Wilde in a recent New Yorker, where he frequently appears along with Vanity Fair and The Nation. Sorel has sliced and diced just about every overstuffed political turkey of the past fifty years. He’s also taken on the touchier subject of religion (e.g., his Vietnam-era poster of New York’s war-loving Cardinal Spellman leading a bayonet charge, titled “Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition”; the Nation cartoon captioned “In religion alone liest the hope for lasting life,” showing religious fanatics bashing each other with swords, guns and crucifixes). He also does acid-etched portraits of movie stars and celebrities (Hugh Heffner as an aging Pan; the Esquire cover of Frank Sinatra surrounded by hands thrusting to light his cigarette). He’s not afraid to be his own target: he imagines himself posing in the nude for a class of his gleeful politician-victims. His definitive presidential portrait gallery runs from Carter through Nixon, Ford, Clinton, Bush II on up to Obama—with attendant aides, flunkies, co-conspirators, etc. Here is a grinning Reagan as a reverse Robin Hood shaking down pennies from the poor to enrich the rich; there Obama as Gulliver tied down by GOP Lilliputians. A film by Ed’s son, Leo Sorel, running in a continuous loop at the SVA gallery, shows him at the drawing board telling how he does it; he is abetted by cameo appearances by Jules Feiffer, and other of his peers. The artistic quality of Sorel’s drawings is superb; they are also psychologically penetrating and, above all, outrageously funny. The show closes November 5.
School of Visual Arts, 601 West 26th Street, New York, NY, 15th floor. Admission free.