Preview of Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules exhibition, London, UK

Review: Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House

Culture /


From classroom riots to overthrowing the museum

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Step into a world where rules no longer apply – you won’t be needing them, anyway. Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House is an unconventional exploration of rule-breaking and rebellion, featuring some of Britain’s favourite comic book characters, more than 100 comic artworks and over 50 contemporary artists.

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Review: Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House

Beano has always championed one simple rule: that rules should be broken. The chaotic energy of the comic magazine has thrived for over 80 years – and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. In Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, we get just what we expect: a joyous debunking of regulations in favour of unruliness and fun.

Andy Holden, the exhibition’s curator, is a long-time fan of Beano and remembers spending hours as a child pouring over comic pages and looking up to the gangs of rule-breakers depicted within. With Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules, Holden wanted to bring together multiple generations of rioters, anarchists and rule-breakers – mapping out the impact of Beano comics (fun fact: did you know David Bowie once cited Beano as an influence in his music?) from its humble beginnings in 1938 and its golden era in the mid-twentieth century to its contemporary acts of rebellion.

Minnie goes to contemporary art museum, 2018. Artwork by Nigel Parkinson. Courtesy of Beano.

Minnie goes to contemporary art museum, 2018. Artwork by Nigel Parkinson. Courtesy of Beano.

This is a show for all ages: the adults who grew up giggling with Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx, and the kids just learning about these characters. Featuring a unique group of artists, from Beano illustrators like Laura Howell and Leo Baxendale to contemporary giants like Martin Creed and Sarah Lucas, Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules is an exciting gateway into the world of art.

Visitors enter into the exhibition with a quick run-down of Beano’s early beginnings, from its influences and first issue to the evolution of our favourite characters (expect to get up close and personal with the likes of Roger the Dodger and The Bash Street Kids).

Beano exhibition, Somerset House

Bash Street Kids, 1982. Courtesy of Beano.

An entire section of Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules is dedicated to food. A central motif in the Beano universe, food often signifies the ultimate reward at the end of a story. As such, it is a subject that must be treated with the respect it so desserts – or rather, deserves. Beano feasts, marked by hulking piles of mash with sausages poking out the sides, are depicted in grand sculptures and drawings throughout the exhibition.

Follow the trail up the stairs to Ed’s Office, which offers guests a look behind the scenes of the Beano ‘Fun Factory’. Get to know Ed, the editor of Beano (who we often see confirming absurd situations through yellow text boxes) and architect of Beanotown. A mini replica of Beanotown sits in the centre of the room, as a precursor to the life-size replica in the next room.

Visitors view a "Scale Model of Village of Beanotown" by Art & Assembly

Scale Model Village of Beanotown by Art & Assembly at Beano The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House, London (c) Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Explore key locations from the Beano comics, like Bash Street School, Bunkerton Castle and the homes on Gasworks Road. A soundtrack of anarchy, helpfully supplied by the jukebox in the Beano Record Shop, helps to highlight the riotous spirit of Beano and its characters.

Beanos Records, curated by Bob Stanley, as part of Beano The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House (c) Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Beanos Records, curated by Bob Stanley, as part of Beano The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House (c) Stephen Chung for Somerset House

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules is also a gathering of today’s greatest creative rule-breakers, with displays of cutting-edge contemporary art littered throughout the exhibition. Come face-to-face with Sarah Lucas’s ‘Self Portrait with Fried Eggs’, make eye contact with Ryan Gander’s ‘Oculus Animi Index’ and walk underneath Philippe Parreno’s ever-Instagrammable ‘Speech Bubbles (Transparent Orange)’.

‘Speech Bubbles’, by Philippe Parreno, 2016

‘Speech Bubbles’, by Philippe Parreno, 2016, as part of Beano The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House, London (c) Stephen Chung for Somerset House

The experience ends on a high note with an interactive workspace hosted by Peter Liversidge (whose patchwork of colourful signs in east London paying tribute to NHS staff and key workers went viral last year), where visitors have the chance to contribute to the Beano Rulebook. This is the bit where you need to think carefully: your lifelong rule will be painted onto a protest sign live during the exhibition and put on display amongst hundreds of other visitors’.

The Final Word

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules was made for the rule-breakers and risk-takers. It’s a compelling exhibition that gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes art – in all its various shapes and forms – fun for the people making it and the people exploring it. Whether you’re in need of a fun getaway with the kids or simply want to bask in the company of your inner child, this is the place to be.

BOOK

Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules will be showing at Somerset House from 21 October 2021 to 6 March 2022. Tickets are £16. For more information, please visit somersethouse.org.uk

Featured image: ‘Splash’ by Horace Panter 2018 as part of Beano The Art of Breaking the Rules at Somerset House, London (c) Stephen Chung for Somerset House

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