On a crisp Sunday afternoon in October, with leaves beginning to turn, what could be more fitting than a visit to the Chas Addams exhibition at the Southampton Center? Chas Addams: Family and Friends is a delightful showing of The Addams Family creator and The New Yorker illustrator’s original drawings.
Designed by architect Grosvenor Atterbury in the late 19th century, the former home to the Parrish Art Museum, now the Southampton Center, is a befitting venue; seeped in history and charm. Around the side of the building, the old brick pathway is covered in fallen leaves, side doors and windows boarded shut and fanciful, heavy iron gates evoke a Halloween mood—that feeling of curiosity and intrigue of the past, each year drawing us closer to the realm of ghosts, goblins and other distressed souls. Pumpkins atop haystacks adorn the entryway of the exhibition, behind them an enlarged drawing of the old Victorian dilapidated Addams Family mansion, greeting visitors on their way in.
Once inside, the mood is lifted with Addams’ witty and comical drawings and captions. Illustrations range in date from the 1940s to late ’80s and in subject matter from the ghoulish and macabre to poking fun at the mundane existence of couples married too long. His references stretch far and wide, indicating he was learned, savvy and of course, a brilliantly talented illustrator.
Mostly in pen, ink and wash on paper, and a few in color, his pictures draw you into his quintessential New York world. Scenes are often from apartment buildings, overlooking streets below, and if depicted out of town, his people are still of a mid-century New York culture; but with an accessible anonymity so we can all have a chuckle. With captions like, “Please let’s not talk about your day,” whereby an older couple sit near a fire in a 12th-century-looking, cavernous room, the woman with her knitting at her lap and the man with a pickaxe leaning on his chair, Addams touches on the timeless humor in male-female relationships. In “The Wedding Cake,” 1940, there’s little need for a caption as the new (large) bride bites the head off the cake-topper groom figurine as her new husband, slight and small in comparison, watches in puzzlement and horror. “Coliseum,” 1950, depicts a tourist couple overlooking the Roman ruins with a glimpse into the man’s imagination, in which his wife is inside the Coliseum running from lions.
The amusing husband/wife themes of The New Yorker illustrations come up again in the Addams Family drawings, yet now the fuddy-duddy wife is replaced with the glamorous Morticia. Goofy and whimsical, the Addams Family drawings provide a relief from everyday life. In “Sad Movie,” Uncle Fester is found laughing amongst a weeping audience. Spooky yet lighthearted Halloween motifs prevail in works like “Kitty Cauldron,” “Witches Cocktail,” and “Halloween Taxi.”
Addams references art history in “I think you know everybody,” 1979, where a young man arrives to a room filled with characters like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Bathsheba and the couple from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (you know, the bespeckled man with the pitchfork and his disapproving female counterpart).
At the risk of sounding cliché, this exhibition truly has something for everyone—young and old. The artworks in the show come from the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, located on the couple’s property and nature sanctuary in Sagaponack. For more information, visit charlesaddams.com and addamsfoundation.org.
Chas Addams: Family and Friends is on view through November 3 and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.
The Southampton Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. For information on upcoming programs, including art exhibitions, visit southamptoncenter.org.