The 1819 Edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales (Photo: Andreas Berthel © Stadt Kassel / Kulturamt)

The 1819 Edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Photo: Andreas Berthel © Stadt Kassel / Kulturamt)


Murder. Infanticide. Mutilation. Incest. While true love intermittently raises its pretty head, Grimm’s fairy tales are far darker than the Disneyfied versions so many of us know. And yet these folk tales, collected by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the early 1800s, have remained wildly popular since publication. One early critic dismissed the Grimm’s collection as “tasteless” and “dismal,” and though the stories were never intended for children, this did not stop eager parents from reading the Grimm’s collection to their children at bedtime.

But the tales are not meant to simply terrify and entertain. As fairy tale scholar Maria Tatar explains, “the beauty of these stories is that…they don’t have a single message or moral….It gives us an opportunity to talk about scary things. About cultural contradictions, …innocence and seduction, monstrosity, and compassion, alterity — the other.”

It was these contradictions that the visual artist Corwin Levi and I found most fascinating. What would happen, we wondered, if we paired Grimm’s tales with contemporary art? As we worked our way through cup after cup of coffee installing a show in Seattle this January, we began to envision contemporary artists making work in tandem with specific Grimm’s tales. When placed side-by-side, how would both the story and the art expand? The end result: Mirror Mirrored: A Contemporary Artists’ Edition of 25 Grimm’s Tales.

Pairing fairy tales with contemporary artwork is not only a way of reemphasizing these stories’ relevance to a diverse contemporary audience, but also a way of challenging the canned fairy tale notions of beauty, good and evil, and identity. While Corwin and I both love Arthur Rackham and Walter Crane’s Grimm’s drawings, we wanted to avoid “illustration” in favor of a less conventional approach.