Fans of Charlie Brown and the Cha Cha Slide will enjoy this new Peanuts exhibition at Somerset House (on until 3 March 2019), celebrating the Charles Schulz cartoons that have had us cracking up since 1950.
The exhibition takes us through the elements that make Peanuts so endearing and enduring (its depressive protagonist, political engagement, existential musings), illustrated by classic strips which feel as joyful and human as ever. We learn about Schulz, his characters (if you ever wondered why Snoopy was a Beagle when he looks nothing like one, turns out Schulz just thought it was a funny word) and their cultural impact, including the fact that California outlawed fictional characters as write-in political candidates following 1968’s ‘Snoopy for President’ craze.
Snoopy’s status as a countercultural symbol (let’s not forget that Snoop Dogg and the Grateful Dead’s Pigpen both took their names from Peanuts) speaks to Schulz’s free-thinking and compassionate works, and the exhibition highlights his anti-war, pro-civil rights and feminist ideas. From the opinionated Lucy (for whom Schulz used a thicker pencil to write dialogue) to the sporty Peppermint Patty, the girls are even bolder than the boys. This is probably one of the reasons the cartoons have aged so well, feeling as funny, thoughtful and cathartic today as they always did. And good grief we need that right now.
The only minor issue (other than the lack of a timed ticketing system) is that the inclusion of Schulz-inspired artwork feels a little like filler. Otherwise this is a delightful dissection of an American institution, whose lovingly simple line-drawings continue to reflect our own lives and a misfit sense of belonging. That said, there’s no mention of what Charlie Brown is meant to mean in the Cha Cha Slide. There are some mysteries in life that not even Schulz could address.