Back to Beauty: recent trends in contemporary art Featured

Figuration is surprisingly strong at the present time.

by 30 June 2009

If you wander around the globe’s many contemporary art fairs – an average of five new shows open their doors each year – you can’t fail to have noticed a new wave of works that gravitate toward the idea of beauty. Albeit not beauty in the traditional sense, which maintains the semblance of the proportional structure studied so extensively by the classical sculptors of Ancient Greece, but a beauty that captures the emotional mood of the moment. Every day advertising dazzles us with an idea of beauty that doesn’t always correspond to what we really like. Contemporary art thus becomes a way to compensate for this rejection, helping us discover works that better suit our personality, our aesthetic, daily or philosophical choices.

The selection is huge. There is an array of young artists whose approaches to the idea of beauty harness the most diverse media – painting, sculpture, photography, installations and performances – all of whom share the common thread of an original viewpoint, a vision unfiltered by the market or the demands of the collector. Indeed, this latter often has to wait years before seeing the artist with whom he has fallen in love unveil the “perfect work” for his needs.

And so we may find ourselves looking at the work of artists like Anna Galtarossa, who treats strings of beads, jewels and junk in the same way to craft assemblages and enormous installations of surreal and cinematographic power, a world apart in which architecture and emotion fuse in a unique fairytale atmosphere, where everything sparkles and smiles. Indeed, glitter, lustrous beads or Swarovski stones are the common denominators of many of these artists, who skilfully infuse an air of regality to everything they touch. Like Angelo Filomeno, who masterfully embroiders dreamscapes and worlds that hint of the medieval on canvas, which becomes a woven thread, or like David Casini, who inserts precious stones and jewels into architectonic sculptures that beckon us into an ancient, elegant fantasy world.

Figuration remains a predominant element for expressing a specific type of beauty. Such as the unsettling beauty sculpted by Kiki Smith, who presented at the Lelong Gallery stand at the Bologna art fair a bronze statue of a child symbolically embracing two vases of flowers, midway between a fairy story and a funerary monument. Or that of Peter Senoner, from Alto Adige, who uses cryolite glass cast over bronze to create magnificent, white and statuary humanoid creatures: a cross between humans who have mutated into superior and extraterrestrial beings full of curiosity about all that surrounds them.

United States artist Judy Fox uses hyperrealist sculpture to create a dream world in which beauty is symbolically encircled by the seven deadly sins: her Snow White and the Seven Sins installation centres on a beautiful young woman of painted terracotta surrounded by seven anthropomorphic but living “dwarves” pulsating with eroticism and ringing her with passion. And passion is what gives movement to the unusual sculptures of Sergio Brevario, who pierces them with geometric elements to create synthetic, disquieting but aesthetically impeccable juxtapositions.

Chiara Tagliazucchi explores family relationships with a cinematographic touch in her small oil paintings, where children and parents are depicted contrasted against enchanted landscapes, where beauty and nature envelop the environment, calming it. The Thousand and One Nights were the inspiration for photographer Brigitte Niedermair in her immortalisation of female beauty in a forbidden context: the desert just outside Dubai.

Davide Bertocchi upends the idea of beauty with instinctive yet aesthetically disarming conceptual works, like in his video “Limo”, where a limousine adapted to its environment is driven down the spiral staircase of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, changing our perception of the use of museum architecture. The performance Monumento a D’Ignoti returns to the magic base idea of Piero Manzoni on which to stand Glavidio D’Ignoti, son of an immigrant miner in Belgium and opera singer. The play on words encapsulates all the drama and nostalgia of the Italian immigrants in a monument that lasts only the time it takes to listen to a pretty song.

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