Exhibition Spotlighting Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Travels to Zimmerli This Fall

June 18, 2018


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Theresa C. Watson, Communications Coordinator

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Exhibition Spotlighting Cartoonist Alison Bechdel, Whose Graphic Memoir “Fun Home” Inspired

the Tony-Winning Musical, Travels to Zimmerli This Fall


New Brunswick, NJ – On September 1, the exhibition Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel, which encompasses the decades-long career of the illustrious cartoonist and graphic memoirist, opens at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. It explores Bechdel’s work as a writer, an artist, and an archivist of the self, someone who constantly mines and shares her own experiences as a way to communicate something vitally human: the quest for love, acceptance, community, and social justice. Bechdel will speak at Rutgers on October 10. Details will be announced later this summer.


“The bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) holds a long and proud place in world literature from Goethe to Philip Roth. Alison Bechdel joins this coterie with her wry and poignant graphic novels,” said Thomas Sokolowski, the Zimmerli’s director. “Conjoining her talents as a writer and an illustrator, she adroitly provides a guidebook for young people striving to find out just who they are. For this alone, she deserves our eternal gratitude.”


With more than 150 objects, Self-Confessed! features Bechdel’s pioneering comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, as well as the graphic memoirs Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. The exhibition presents these primary bodies of work in depth through original sketches and drawings, while incorporating other aspects of Bechdel’s creative output, from early drawings to activist ephemera to large-scale self-portraits. It also includes a model of the set for the 2015 Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home and clips from the New York performances. The exhibition was organized by the Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont, where it debuted in early 2018.


“We are delighted to work with our colleagues at the Fleming and Alison Bechdel to bring this exciting exhibition to Rutgers,” said Donna Gustafson, the Zimmerli’s Curator of American Art and Mellon Director for Academic Programs. “Bechdel’s books and comics have a broad following on campus and this exhibition provides an important opportunity for a campuswide conversation about the arts in a variety of forms, the memoir as a device for storytelling, and LGBTQ lives.”


Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, about the lives of a group of lesbian friends, ran from 1983 to 2008 and was syndicated in more than 50 alternative papers around the country. In 2006, Bechdel published the graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which explores her relationship with her father, her coming out, and his possible suicide. Fun Home was a New York Times bestseller and the basis of the musical of the same name. Bechdel followed up in 2012 with Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, which follows her relationship with her mother, girlfriends, therapists, and her exploration of psychoanalytic theory. Both books are works of multilayered complexity, employing nonlinear storytelling and a rich trove of literary and historical references.


Alison Bechdel lives in Vermont. She serves as the James Marsh Professor-At-Large at the University of Vermont and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (aka, “genius grant”) in 2014. Vermont’s alternative paper Seven Days, which ran Dykes to Watch Out For, also published new strips by Bechdel that have focused on current political events. In 2017, Bechdel was named the third Cartoonist Laureate of Vermont – a position unique to the state – and portrayed herself in an episode of The Simpsons.


In addition to Bechdel's work, the exhibition includes drawings, prints, and books by three graphic memoirists whose distinct voices reflect experiences shared by many Americans today. Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do (2017) documents the ongoing effects that immigration has on a family, even as its members assimilate to their new homes. In Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir (2012), cartoonist Ellen Forney recounts how she managed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and her years-long struggle to find mental stability, while retaining her passion and creativity. Iraq veteran Maximilian Uriarte’s White Donkey: Terminal Lance (2016), a graphic novel that evolved from the comic strip and website he started in 2010, satirizes daily life in the United States Marine Corps. These artists demonstrate how relevant graphic novels and memoirs have become in connecting individuals who share personal experiences that may be difficult to discuss and helping them find a supportive community.


On view at the Zimmerli from September 1 to December 30, 2018, Self-Confessed! The Inappropriately Intimate Comics of Alison Bechdel is organized by the Fleming Museum of Art, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. The presentation at the Zimmerli is organized by Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art and Mellon Director for Academic Programs.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and select first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


PaparazZi Café is open Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed weekends and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.



The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, and donors, members, and friends of the museum.



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