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A collision of art and comedy

August 11, 2011|By Terri Martin

Steve Melcher, the Emmy Award winning TV writer and producer involved with shows like “Penn and Teller,” “Dennis Miller,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and “Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update,” shatters conventional reverence for museum masterworks with tongue in cheek parodies published in his book titled “That is Priceless; Art’s Greatest Masterpieces…Made Slightly Funnier.” No iconic artist escapes the author’s satirical subtitles, and the reader reaps the benefits.

Early and pre-20th century artworks are equally targeted by Melcher for those qualities that cause average museumgoers to scratch their heads or bite their tongues. Comical costumes, scary religious scenes and odd portraits are fair game to the author who says what most art viewers are too intimidatedto admit out loud. His book takes the altitude out of highbrow art making it accessible and appreciable on a run-of-the-mill human level.

Melcher did not arrange the book in any typical fashion such as by period or genre, . Rather, his ten chapters are defined based on the comedic potential of the subject matter.

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His chapter titles reinforce the lack of academic knowledge about art, but that is the engine behind this book. Chapter four is titled “The Blue Period,” which by art historical standards refers to Picasso’s early figurative work in which blue dominated his palette. Melcher’s “Blue Period” chapter is populated with an eclectic collection of paintings conducive to humor about “gratuitous swearing and sexual content” which relates to “swearing up a blue streak” I assume, and neatly ties them to current culture.

He takes Jean Fouquet’s version of the Holy Virgin and Christ child (1452) — a common theme full of iconography — which includes Mary’s exposed breast, and re-titled it “Holy Wardrobe Malfunction,” referring of course to Batman and Robin slang smudged together with Janet Jackson’s accidental breast exposure at the Super Bowl in 2004. Very funny, but how could Melcher miss commenting on the crazy red cherubs floating around the holy duo?

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