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Congress of Oddities:
James G. Mundie's Prodigies

8 September to 22 October 2006
Wilmington, Delaware

Congress of Oddities: James G. Mundie's Prodigies - Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts

DATE: 7 August 2006
CONTACT: James Mundie
LOCATION: Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington DE

September 8th through October 22nd, 2006


WILMINGTON DE – Artist James G. Mundie’s critically acclaimed portrait drawings of real sideshow performers (often called freaks) will be shown in the exhibition Congress of Oddities: James G. Mundie’s Prodigies in the Beckler Family Members’ Gallery of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, September 8th through October 22nd, 2006. Mundie’s intimate portraits take real freakshow performers and put them into compositions borrowed from famous paintings. The result is a pairing of high and low art that compels the viewer to engage their own curiosity about the physically different.

There was a time when freakshows were to be found on every fairground. One might argue that freakshows were among the most popular forms of public entertainment for several centuries before social and economic factors relegated the display of human freaks to history. But in its heyday, the sideshow presented a theatrical heritage of stylized performance and presentation that entertained generations. It is in the fantastical and bombastic spirit of the circus sideshow, where even a three-legged man would be re-invented to appear more interesting, that James Mundie has created new ‘histories’ for his subjects in which fact and fancy are liberally mingled. In Mundie’s work, conjoined twins and bearded women mix with paintings by Holbein and Goya, creating a hybrid which said “merges the classical with the curious, and succeeds by capturing what is most human in the anomalous form.”

In discussing the reasons for depicting these unusual individuals in his portraits, James Mundie notes, “There is a visceral attraction to those things that terrify us. And in the case of human freaks, people continue to be interested because they feel that, ‘But for the grace of God, that could have been me.’ It forces them to confront their own situation, their own humanity.”

James Mundie acknowledges admiration for those who once put themselves on display: “Here were people who were dealt a bad hand in life, but rather than lock themselves away decided to turn adversity into opportunity. The guiding principal seems to have been, ‘If you want to stare, pay me for the privilege.’ Consequently, many of these people made a very comfortable living for themselves and their families, and in the process developed their own tight knit community. On the sideshow they were not someone to be pitied — they were a major draw.” Mundie does admit that there is a darker side to this world. “There’s a lot of talk about exploitation in freakshows — which certainly did happen — but many of these performers turned that on its ear and instead exploited their audiences’ hunger for wonder.”

Mundie’s work is itself something of an anomaly. The richly textured and highly detailed ink drawings of Prodigies lure the viewer in through the beautiful physicality of their technique and composition. It is only when one considers the depictions themselves that the ‘otherness’ of the subject becomes apparent. It’s this mixture of reverence and humor that, as Edward Sozanski of The Philadelphia Inquirer put it, “transform them from sideshow performers into empathetic characters.” Mundie’s work gives the viewer permission to indulge their curiosity, while at the same time honoring the memories of these extraordinary performers.

There is a subtext to the draw of the freakshow that speaks in equal parts to one’s own misfit status and the desire to experience the forbidden. “These are things that I struggle with myself,” Mundie says, “so I want the viewer to experience these drawings and challenge their conceptions of standardized beauty. There is often beauty within the grotesque, if we would only open ourselves to the possibility.”

James G. Mundie’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Additionally, Mundie’s work appears in many public and private collections, and has been featured in numerous publications.

The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts is located at 200 South Madison Street, Wilmington DE, 19801. Gallery hours are 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and 12:00 to 5:00 P.M. (Wednesday and Sunday). Receptions for Congress of Oddities will be held from 5:00 to 8:00 P.M. on September 8th and 21st, 2006. Additionally, James Mundie will deliver a lunchtime lecture as part of the DCCA’s ArtSalad series from 11:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. on October 18th. For more information, please visit

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2006