Rarely do you find an art show in a London commercial gallery that is as beautiful as The Borrowed Loop at Man&Eve gallery in Vauxhall. Beauty tends to be shunned by contemporary art, which sees it an appendage to banality. Beauty is old hat. Beauty has run out of ideas. Beauty is your embarrassing aunt who still cakes on the make-up well past her sell-by date. The Borrowed Loop has gathered together a group of artists who have – in their different ways – achieved beauty through embracing rather than rejecting its long-term relationship with art. They have done this through embracing their relationship with art history.
All contemporary artists do this to certain extent. Let’s not underestimate the constant reliance on and allusions to artists like Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon. But the artists in The Borrowed Loop exhibition aren’t hemmed in by an invisible barrier that slices across the year 1900 to condemn all that went before as untouchable, uninspiring and just plain uncool. They bring this silent art history forward to us through some pretty remarkable paintings, beautifully quirky sculptures, impressive installations and truly stunning video art.
It was Roland Barthes who proclaimed the Death of the Author in his 1967 essay and appropriation in art held enormous sway during the 1980s due to the work of artists like Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince and their images of pre-existing images. Likened to the sampling of music by DJs in 1980s New York’s nascent hip-hop scene, artists stole, altered and merged original material in order to create something newly original – a sort of aesthetic reincarnation. One of our greatest contemporary appropriators, Glenn Brown, claimed that “to make something up from scratch is nonsensical…even the images in your dreams refer to reality.”
One of the most striking things about The Borrowed Loop exhibition is its serenity. Ori Gersht’s remarkable video work Falling Bird establishes a sense of a quiet but violently affecting beauty. The projection seemingly shows a section of a Chardin still life, the partridge strung up pathetically by its feet beside a plate of shining grapes. But the bird is dropped and falls into a black sea of its own reflection. It falls into the paint. Its sinking is accompanied by sounds reminiscent of a great ship wailing as it disastrously descends into the ocean.
Filippo Caramazza’s paintings of paintings throw questions about the status of the ‘original’ back into the conceptual ring. His little work After Fabritius, The Goldfinch is a painting of a copy of an original; the little copy painted as a scrappy picture postcard, taped to a wall. One of Caramazza’s favourite painterly tricks is to depict paintings that have been folded and distorted into origami objects, thus whilst depicting the original within his paintings he is serving that original up as a new object entirely – but only through the artifice of a two-dimensional plane. Bouke de Vries also tackles the contradictions and connotations of the value placed on the ‘original’. As a ceramic preservationist his experience of the once priceless being debased to trash because of a chip or hairline split, inspires his beautiful little sculptures of fragmented pottery, engulfed by fruits and swarming with flies. His sculptural Dutch still lifes are rotting but worthy.
As unusual as this exhibition’s beauty is its quality. All the works are worth our time. Tucked away in the raucousness of Vauxhall is an exhibition that doesn’t shout but unquestionably shows its message that beauty and contemporary art need not merely co-exist in their divorce but can still have a very healthy relationship together.
No previous art-historical knowledge required: just a pair of eyes and an open mind.