When the grotesque becomes the beauty in art

When the grotesque becomes the beauty in art

Art is largely understood to be a thing of beauty, a visual treat that would help you escape the drudgery of daily life and transport you to a world of splendour and bliss. But there is an alternate view of art too: the monstrously ugly, totally bizarre and shocking!

This kind of art may not serve as an eye-candy, but it certainly stimulates the mind to think in different directions.

Following this line of thought, a leading art organisation - the Floodlight Foundation - recently presented ‘Beauty in the Beast’. This was a group exhibition of eight artists exploring the grotesque and the anti-aesthetic in contemporary art. Around 20 artworks, including paintings and installations, delved into the gross, uncanny and even incongruous aspect of contemporary art, yet keeping the chaos ‘orderly and balanced.’
Curator Surbhi Modi held an enlightening talk on the subject ahead of unveiling of the exhibition.

She underlined, “Artworks that are grotesque are not necessarily disgusting. Medieval-era art in the West is full of examples where the aesthetic and inaesthetic are completely at odds with each other and abstraction fights figuration, creating an altered reality. The aim is to urge the viewer to move beyond the superficial material plane to a higher level of spiritual contemplation.”

She spoke about Marcel Duchamp’s iconic urinal, the object that spearheaded the DADA movement of avant-garde art in Europe in early 1900s, which argued that anything the artist did should be art, and not simply retinal, that is, pleasing to the eye. Other illustrations cited were ‘Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X’ (1953) by Francis Bacon and Paul McCarthy’s more recent ‘Inflatable Poop’ (2013).

The eight artists who participated in the exhibition bravely carried the tradition of the ‘grotesque’ forward. Anant Mishra’s drawings, for instance, meandered between the dualities of human and animal, abstraction and figuration, arrogating mythical beasts and fantastical characters, ala old Roman frescoes.

Mangesh’s video installation combined the luxury of velvet felt with the raw cantankerousness of sound and video that showed the delicate balance of a beast and a flower in a kaleidoscope. His surrealistic pencil drawings were both humorous and insightful, reflecting the musings of a wise child.

Rajesh’s miniatures paid homage to the Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt but brought his own brand of melancholic nonchalance to the forefront. Nayanna Kanoria’s eerie oils showed zebras in a living room and pole gymnasts in a forest, maintaining an unquestionable elegance even in their bizarre unbecomingness.

Hifzul Sheikh contemporised Greek, Indian and Roman mythological characters in his satirical works whereas Arun Pandit deftly used fibre and bronze together in his powerful sculptures to comment on socio-political issues.

Mohd Arif turned his studio into a laboratory where he X-rayed subjects like dead animals. His work seemed liked a muted agitation against animal killing.
Provocative as these works may be, they push the envelope of what is acceptable and help draw attention to some very experimental artists.

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