A screen capture from the two-part "Pop Goes the Joker" episode of the 1966 Batman series.

A screen capture from the two-part “Pop Goes the Joker” episode of the 1966 Batman series.

Today is a very important day in contemporary art history. Yes, today is in fact the 47th anniversary of “Pop Goes the Joker,” a very amusing and at times slightly disturbing two-part episode of the original Batman television series starring Adam West. The episode depicts Gotham’s “art world” and opens with a scene in which the Joker enters a rather proper art gallery and sprays paint all over a series of priceless works, which are later praised as an act of artistic genius (which only goes to show even Yellowism is not original).

Afterwards, the Joker enters an art contest and is pitted against artists with somewhat familiar names, including Pablo Pincus, Jackson Potluck, Leonardo Davinski, and Vincent van Goache. After winning the contest by applying a single dot of purple paint onto a canvas the Joker decides to open up an art academy of his own to teach his students “the secrets of Modern art.” This is of course a plot, it is The Joker after all, in which one of Batman’s archenemies only accepts extremely wealthy citizens as his students in hopes to gain access to their money.

The Joker’s idea of scamming rich citizens into paying for an expensive art education may seem humorous at first but will surely make any recent art school graduate’s skin crawl as the college tuitions of today continue to rise and student debt is at an all time high.

Furthermore, the episode continues as the Joker takes his wealthy students through a quite humorous critique, and of course, fights Batman numerous times in the process, complete with his henchmen wearing stereotypical berets and painting smocks.

Another detail worth mentioning is the Joker’s plot to exhibit his own work inside Gotham’s art museum, an act very similar to a prank infamous street artist Banksy pulled off in no less than four New York art museums years ago (perhaps a number of artists have been watching this episode in search of ideas?).

Below are some of the more memorable quotes by the Joke culled from the two-part episode:

“This is an outrage, an outrage against art, an insult I say!”
“Look at that, you call that art?”
“…these uncultured boobs have no appreciation for fine art.”
“We artists are not required to be nice, but only talented!” 
“Handle them carefully boys, there’s ten million under those blankets.”  (said by The Joker as art handlers are moving paintings into Gotham’s art museum.)

While this episode was created many years ago it continues to remain relevant today and is truly a memorable work of institutional critique to say the least. Linked below are both parts of the episode on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I also suggest this be viewed with a along with group of friends, perhaps over a few beers on this very “picturesque” day…

***Bonus Link***

The Joker is also a fan of Francis Bacon, who knew?

The Latest

Kyle Petreycik

Kyle Petreycik is an artist and Hyperallergic intern.

3 replies on “When the Joker Was a Contemporary Artist”

  1. Interesting how the author is kind enough to give credit to Adam West; but fails to name Cesar Romero, the actor cast as The Joker.

    1. Emailed the author asking him to update the article and to please give credit where credit is due.

Comments are closed.