Museum Review: Tomi Ungerer (Strasbourg)

This weekend, I went on a surprise trip to Strasbourg. and I'd like to share with you a review of an exhibition of Tomi Ungerer's work.

Tomi Ungerer is a French illustrator born in Strasbourg, who did most of his work while living in New York (I think he's back in Strasbourg now, not sure). In 2007, the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg was opened in honor of this living legend and we decided the pay the museum a visit. 

The museum is not very large, but it's an absolutely gorgeous building. Light, white, and with a fun little sculpture garden out front. The works inside were carefully displayed and the accompanying texts were concise and informative. The exhibition on display was called Tomi Ungerer, a Multifaceted Artist, and boy, what an apt title that was.


The ground floor of the museum was dedicated to Ungerer's toy collection and children's books drawings. I loved that the museum showed both the inspiration behind his works, his sketchbooks and the sketches that led up to the final works and published books. I don't believe I've ever owned one of his books as a kid, but his style definitely rang a bell and reminded me of some of the books my dad grew up reading (and passing onto us). Colorful, witty, but with an edge. On this floor, we also saw a selection of tv cartoons that Ungerer made, my favorite being the 'Three Robbers'. LOVE those sound effects.


The first floor (or second, if you're American) showed some of Ungerer's more commercial and controversial work. Among the brilliantly executed anti-Vietnam war posters and Bonduelle vegetable commercials, we also saw a series of 'erotic' jewelry he designed and a series of designs for playground buildings and public bathrooms (my favorite being a square building with a giant butt on top it).


It was in the basement (where else?) that we began to understand the true meaning behind the 'multifaceted' aspect of Ungerer's work as we encountered a warning that the images we were about to see weren't suitable for a younger audience. A series of sketchbooks on SM prostitutes, another series of frogs having sex with not only each other but with objects and plants ('the joy of frogs', the series was called - it really was kind of funny) and an entire room full of mangled Barbie dolls being molested by animals and other crazy creatures. Multifaceted, yes, definitely. Personally, if I were a children's book author still alive and publishing, I would have left my molested Barbie dolls hidden in the back of that closet, but perhaps I'm being too prudish. I'm not against some good erotic art every now and then (and the frogs were hilarious), but I suppose the violence of it kind of threw me off after seeing the children's book drawings. That, or I'm clearly still not over the trauma of that one time when the neighborhood bully burnt the face off my favorite Barbie doll.

All in all though, the exhibition and museum were very inspiring! I absolutely loved Ungerer's children's books drawings, the movies, and the whole presentation. I really feel I've learned more about the artist, his inspirations, and the way he works. The museum was a pleasant space to spend some time in, also because people were hanging out everywhere with their sketchbook in hand. Even the guard upstairs was doing a little sketch whilst keeping an eye on us. If you're in Strasbourg, and you're not familiar with Ungerer's work, I'd recommend going, but yeah... keep your little ones out of the crazy Barbie-room, hehe.


City Guide: Ixelles (Brussels, BE)