San Francisco’s Cartoon Museum hosts paintings from ‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’

‘I want people to think of a visit to a museum as a fun experience’

If you’re a fan of neckties, Wendy Williams, or depictions of lustful rodents, San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum will be your happy place for most of January.

Starting Tuesday and running until Jan. 25, the museum will be home to “The Last Week Tonight Masterpiece Gallery,” television host John Oliver’s traveling exhibit of three paintings featured prominently on his weekly HBO show.

One of the paintings is of talk show host Wendy Williams gazing directly out of the picture frame while delicately holding what appears to be a lamb chop with one hand, seemingly poised to give it a bite.

Another is a still life of men’s neckties, cascading down what might be a small chest or some kind of suitcase, painted by Judy Kudlow, wife of Fox Business Network host Larry Kudlow, according to a news release from the museum.

The third piece, “Stay Up Late,” is a painting by Pennsylvania-based artist Brian Swords, which features “two anthropomorphized rats engaged in an act that inspired Oliver to proclaim the piece ‘high-quality rat erotica,’” according to the museum.

The Cartoon Art Museum is the last of five small museums around the country to host the exhibit, which was also shown at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minn., and the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

Oliver announced the open application process on his show several months ago and encouraged small museums that were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to throw their hats in the ring for a chance to host the art, as well as to receive a $10,000 grant.

“During a typical year, we have probably 15,000 visitors,” said museum curator Andrew Farago. “This past year has not been typical by any means.”

In addition to the art and the grant, Oliver mentioned the museums on his show and announced the venues on social media.

As a bonus, organizers also selected nonprofit groups in the museums’ communities to receive an additional $10,000 — with the San Francisco–Marin Food Bank making the cut locally.

“I want people to think of a visit to a museum as a fun experience and if this (exhibit) inspires them, if this makes them go home and pick up a paint brush or sit down with a pen and paper and think big, we’re thrilled if that’s the outcome here,” Farago said.

“Seeing these images on my TV and then seeing them up close, I have a whole new appreciation of what went into creating these pieces,” he said.

The museum is located at 781 Beach St., about a block away from Ghirardelli Square.

It’s open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Wednesday. General admission tickets are $10; $7 for San Francisco residents; $6 for students, members of the military and educators; $4 for kids 6 to 12 years old, and free for younger children.

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