Be really nice to your closest underlings
A CHILD’S MACHIAVELLI: THE BEGINNING
A CHILD’S MACHIAVELLI was initially written and illustrated by Claudia Hart in 1995. It was inspired by Niccolo Machiavelli’s Renaissance treatise, THE PRINCE, the first book of political philosophy. Hart’s version began as a series of oil paintings and a small catalog, produced by the Realismus Studio at the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin.
A CHILD'S MACHIAVELLI: THE BOOK
In the bookstore of NGBK, Hart fell in love with Comix, a back then radical form of comic books that filled one of their shelves. She read them, fascinated. There was no such thing as a graphic novel in those days. MAUS by Art Spiegelman, the Comix masterpiece, had just been released. Hart would stand around the NGBK bookstore, reading MAUS and other related works.
"I was a figurative artist interested in historical paintings, not comic books. Nevertheless, I was inspired," Hart says.
Her response was A CHILD'S MACHIAVELLI, born as a series of 31 oil paintings, where she rewrote the Renaissance treatise by Niccolo Machiavelli as a children’s book, speaking in the youth-speak of her time. She was reflecting on the real estate and cultural war taking place in the early 1990s in Berlin. Her aphorisms focused on the workings of power. But the strategy was the same as for all of the other works she has produced since the beginning: text combined with images. It is a series of aphorisms in an illustrated book that does not need to be read in order. Each painting was a unique piece that could be combined in any order. The book has proven prescient, prefiguring the brutal tenor of contemporary US public discourse.
The catalog was eventually released as an expanded hardcover by Penguin Edition USA in 1998. In addition, there was a Nautilus Edition German version published in 1996, and an Abbeville Press French edition published in 1998. At that time, Hart reinterpreted the oil paintings to produce the series of gouache paintings on paper exhibited at EXPANDED.ART.
Hart’s approach was typical of the 1990s art world. Mimicking the visuals of a picture book, she appropriated 1920s children’s illustrations known for their sugary sweetness. The irony and twisted humor of A CHILD’S MACHIAVELLI are derived from its combination of opposites: the saccharine speech of kid’s books and the unvarnished reality of American politics. The book went out of print in 2000 but continues to be traded on the second-hand book market.
In 2019, Beatrice Books, a small experimental publisher, reissued A CHILD’S MACHIAVELLI as a more contemporary book. At that time, Hart discovered among her files a series of Flash animations created for an ebook, the early 21st-century digital format that had long since disappeared, initiated by the production company Flicker Labs in 2010.
CLAUDIA HART ABOUT A CHILD’S MACHIAVELLI
"We are obviously in a period of cultural crisis, with the world slipping into autocracies, war in the Ukraine, and democracy dramatically destabilized in the USA. Social media is used to spread misinformation and engender fear and terror in order to manipulate the populace.
The little mottos that I wrote in the early nineties are more relevant now than ever. They seem to be pointedly directed at the cultural and political world of today. Yet when I wrote them, I felt that I was translating Machiavelli’s early 16th-century text into the politics of that time."
– Claudia Hart, June 2023