Pee Wee Herman is back in full swing, with an appearance last weekend at San Diego's Comic-Con, a show here in L.A. that moved to Broadway, a voice part in the new Smurfs movie and a reported movie project involving Judd Apatow. It would seem that we're witnessing a Pee Wee cultural renaissance.
Naturally, a modern pop culture renaissance wouldn't be complete without that beacon of ironic nostalgia: the tribute art show. Today, the Venice outpost of Gallery 1988, opens an exhibit with artwork from over 80 artists paying tribute to the great Herman and his wacky universe, titled with one of his catchphrases, “I Know You Are, But What Am I?”
Gallery 1988 seems to be milking the concept of the tribute show — their Pee Wee Herman fan art exhibit is the third tribute show in a string that included art based around David Wain's cult film Wet Hot American Summer, and their annual “Crazy 4 Cult” movie art exhibit. So far, it doesn't seem like we've been dealt too much of a good thing, since their populist gallerists clearly have a knack for picking out themes that people like.
And people certainly like Pee Wee. Many people from the '80s generation have their favorite word of the day vignette, can tell you if they prefer Chairry, Clockey or Globey, and if they can't — it might be a fair indicator that they have no soul. There's no denying that Pee Wee Herman is quite strange as well, with his manic mannerisms and odd prancing. His combination of the weird, wonderful and grotesque definitely revealed itself in the artwork of the exhibit — some camp, some scary, and some simply delightful.
Here are the top ten picks from Gallery 1988's Pee Wee fan art:
10) Billy Baloney, nostalgic in woodblock print
The subtle sneer from one of Pee Wee's supporting characters is just there for ironic effect — remember, no getting sentimental about this.
9) Enter the freak zone: Pee Wee's big adventure in plastic surgery
Plastic surgery, Pee Wee style.
8) Over the moon
Is Pee Wee on dreamy and childlike adventures, or creeping in the shadows?
7) Pee Wee Herman, criminal mastermind
Perhaps it's Pee Wee's cherry-pink lips or his sartorially raised brow. Or maybe it's the gaping monsters in the background. Either way, it seems like there's no complete escape from the shadow of his arrests in the '90s.
6) The disillusioned surrealist
He sits, lonely, on a stoop in a busy metropolis with Texas at his feet, and dinosaurs in the background.
5) Breaking through the third wall
No need for commentary on this one. Though why does the kid seem totally unmoved by Pee Wee's sudden breakthrough?
4) Magritte calling
Surrealism trades apples for words.
3) “Let It Pee”
So much camp, and yet it works.
2) Just fun and games
See? Pee Wee doesn't have to be creepy, or even morally ambiguous – he can just be playful and funky in orange.
1) Meet the master
Finally, we get a glimpse of the real Pee Wee, backstage. Sitting in the shadows, in control of his empire with a knowing smirk on his face.
The Pee Wee Herman tribute art show “I Know You Are, But What Am I?” opens on Friday, July 29 with a reception from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., and runs through August 19 at Gallery1988 Venice.
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