Key to understanding the humorous tactics of contemporary artists are the strategies of Surrealism, Dada, and Fluxus, as well as the satirical precedents set by artists like Francisco Goya, George Grosz, and John Heartfield, who were equally important as social critics as well as artists. Surrealists interwove puns, bawdy jokes, and punch line–esque titles into their work, and the relationship between text and image was central to their use of humor. Dada continued to fine tune these methods with its own particular flavor and tone. Marcel Duchamp famously championed the idea that art could be play as much as work and could strive to make people laugh. Satire was a key strategy in art between the two world wars and created a bridge between the cartoon or caricature and fine art traditions.

Further reading

  • Jennifer Higgie, ed. The Artist’s Joke (Cambridge, MA: Mit Press & London: Whitechapel, 2007),

From Helen Jones Presentation

One compact definition is postmodernism rejects modernism’s grand narratives of artistic direction, eradicating the boundaries between high and low forms of art, and disrupting genre’s conventions with collision, collage, and fragmentation. Postmodern art holds all stances are unstable and insincere, and therefore irony, parody, and humor are the only positions critique or revision cannot overturn. “Pluralism and diversity” are other defining features.[31]

First you laugh. Then you wonder why. This is the one-two punch of humor in art today, where laughter is nervous but never cheap, and comic turns are but the gateway to a world of doubt. Indeed, funny art comes so loaded with piercing ironies, sudden surrealities, and deadpan expressions of horror or grief that we cannot be sure if it is even okay to laugh. A lingering tendency among critics to dismiss artists who employ humor as mere jokers hasn’t prevented such artists from turning to satire with renewed vigor. Cartoon images now seem to be everywhere—in painting and sculpture as well as video and digital animation, tacked to walls or drawn directly on them.

Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy was born in 1945 in Salt Lake City.). Paul McCarthy’s video-taped performances and provocative multimedia installations lampoon polite society, ridicule authority, and bombard the viewer with a sensory overload, of often sexually-tinged, violent imagery.

paul-mccarthy-blockhead-ins_0Blockhead will be loosely based on the character of Pinocchio, but as in much of McCarthy’s work, this popular children’s character is mutated to a form bordering on the grotesque. The work will combine this strange mutation with funfair spectacle. There will be an opening at the base of the figure leading into a cavernous hallway where visitors will be able to purchase specially made candy.

The enormous scale of the figure is designed to physically overpower the viewer, an experience the artist has likened to standing at the bottom of a cliff, describing the inflatable as ‘an abstract that rises up and over your head’.

However, this extraordinary physical presence will be seemingly negated by the black surface which McCarthy describes as creating ‘a black object’ which becomes ‘a hole in the landscape’. Among McCarthy’s earliest works was a series of black paintings made in 1967-68 and he has quoted several of the leading artists from this period, such as American sculptor Tony Smith, in reference to the starkness of Blockhead‘s black form.

David Shrigley

Harrison and Wood


Marcus Coates

Bedwyr Williams

Bedwyr Williams often draws upon the quirky banalities of his own autobiographic existence to develop his sculptures and performances. His work merges art and life with a comedic twist that is instantaneously sympathetic and relational. In Walk A Mile In My Shoes, Williams presents a display case boasting 45 pairs of used shoes. Not just any old footwear however – each bootie is Williams’s own whopping size 13.

Inviting the audience to share in his own problematics of podiatry, viewers are encouraged to try the gear on: an act that invariably relays the humour and embarrassment of floppy footed clowns and sasquatch clumsiness. The importance that each pair of shoes was purchased second hand underlies the key themes of Williams’s piece – with the knowledge that there are at least over 40 other Hobbit-pawed souls in the world – Walk A Mile In My Shoes celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community; through the simple practicalities of footwear, Williams extols the values of tolerance and individual difference.

Paul Granjon


Peter Finnermore

Jeremy Deller

Roger Brown

In Talk Show Addicts by Roger Brown, a late night view of a suburban neighborhood appears to show how completely television entertainment dominates our lives. This darkly humorous painting could be a landscape view of the world described in Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1967). Identical houses contain almost identical, late-night TV viewers watching almost identical programs. The artist seems to be saying that by immersing themselves in the same TV experience these disconnected suburbanites have become isolated. Despite living in such close proximity, television watching has become the tie which binds them. They are mesmerized and dominated by the electronic spectacle. The artist has reduced the size of their homes to mere capsules for TV viewing. He takes a distant perspective and presents an idealized view of the world that they are unable to see – the world that they are collectively creating with their addiction to late-night talk shows. Additionally, his use of an idealizing style is a distancing technique which implies a more detached point of view.


Adam McEwan

British-born artist Adam McEwen (b.1965) lives and works in New York. McEwen’s work is concerned with pop and consumer culture. McEwen approaches this landscape with a directness that is disarming and yet full of dark, dead-pan humour. In the past, McEwen’s work has appropriated the familiar formats of newspaper articles and mobile phone display screens, shop signage and credit cards. He has even applied chewing gum found on the street to his paintings on canvas.

McEwen’s most recognizable work to date is a series of blown-up obituaries written for living and breathing celebrities including Bill Clinton, Rod Stewart, Jeff Koons and Kate Moss.

McEwen has exhibited internationally and curated projects in the UK and US.

New York-based mega fucking cool artist, Adam McEwen, appropriates vernacular forms, from text messages and obituaries to everyday consumer objects, manipulating familiar items and repurposing them in new, unexpected contexts.

Whit Wegman


Whit Wegman and Humour

What better way to kick off the weekend than to marvel at the wonder of animals. Dressed like humans. Known for his love of Weimaraners, the legendary William Wegman has teamed up with high fashion label ACNE to create their spring 2013 campaign. Jonny Johansson, creative director for ACNE, told Grazia Daily: “I’m a big fan of William Wegman’s work, its beauty, witty humour and intelligence but also what it says about identity and culture. I always thought it would be interesting to work on a project together. The outcome is beyond all expectation.”

Dressed in money print suits, heeled loafers and wide-brimmed hats, these silvery-furred pooches are the most well-behaved I’ve ever seen. Not to mention they nail the “magnum” look – definitely surpassing “blue steel.”

Other Artists

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