The Cartoon Art Museum is right in the center of San Francisco’s museum district. Located around the corner from Yerba Buena Gardens and the SFMOMA, next door to the shiny new Museum of the African Diaspora and across the street from the venerable California Historical Society, it manages to hold its own pretty nicely. Adding to my personal fondness for its location is the fact that it is located below a Steinway Piano store, the large blue sign hanging ominously and conjuring up images of old Bugs Bunny cartoons to my admittedly suggestible mind.
Founded in 1984, it started as a “museum without walls,” exhibiting in other museums and galleries until it found a brick-and-mortar incarnation with the help of an endowment from Peanutscreator Charles M. Schultz in 1987. Then in 2001 it moved to its current location, 655 Mission, the former home of the Ansel Adams Center. The museum bookstore, Photo Graphix, still carries books on Adams in addition to a great selection of gorgeous art books related to exhibits both past and present.
Aside from the MoCCA in NY, it is the only museum of its type in the country and it takes its job seriously, with a permanent collection of 6,000-plus pieces of original art and a comprehensive approach to the medium. Recent exhibitions have covered comic strips, underground comics, political cartooning, animated movies and television and children’s illustration. At any given time the work of R. Crumb, Will Eisner, Edward Gorey, Chas Adams, Gahan Wilson, George Herriman and Winsor McCay can be found hanging on the walls alongside local artists.
The venue is unassuming, composed mainly of one long space divided into two rooms by a center wall. But there’s plenty to see and it’s easy to lose track of time and spend a couple of hours wandering from piece to piece. The space is also very well suited for events which the CAM hosts a half dozen times a year including, in years past at least, one during the WonderCon weekend. It also offers cartooning classes and lectures for adults and children.
SF/SF Issue 38, February 2007