On the Money: Cartoons for The New Yorker From the Melvin R. Seiden Collection
Through May 24
Morgan Library, New York

The Morgan Library’s new exhibition will make you laugh until you want to cry, said Ariella Budick in the Financial Times. The 80 original New Yorker cartoons gathered in this exhibition tackle booms and busts from the Great Depression to the recent housing bubble. None addresses the current financial crisis, but a good gag “can transcend the business cycle that spawned it,” and the best here could have been published yesterday. “The most enduring jokes” delineate how—in good times and bad—money grubbing subtly influences friendships, families, and even love lives. A biting William Hamilton cartoon from 1987 shows a young Ivy League couple discovering their lives’ purpose: “That is incredible,” one says. “Did you know that I, too, want as much as I can as fast as I can get it?” Another by Hamilton views its stockbroker subject almost with sympathy, as he confesses over a martini: “Lately, I’ve had the awful feeling that my marriage is tied to the dollar.”

The exhibition’s overall theme seems to be “how powerful and precarious a thing money is,” said Edward Rothstein in The New York Times. The concision of the form forced creators to distill the telling details of their eras, and in these bleak slices of life “the complexities of economic theory dissolve into the far more pungent currency of social relations, of status and snobbery, pretense and pride.” A 2002 Lee Lorenz cartoon shows tycoons at the height of hubris: “Well, we’ve licked taxes,” one announces. “That just leaves death.” A similar group of businessmen, in a 1975 Stan Hunt cartoon, wears grim faces. One character explains: “They control 96 percent of a market in something nobody wants anymore.”