Gabby Nathan, You Are Not Your Job, 2008
The Grotesque Body in Contemporary Art
July 18, 2009 - January 9, 2010
Curator: Tami Katz-Freiman
The exhibition explores the notion of "grotesque" as an aesthetic category gaining more and more traction in the art of recent years, as part of a baroque, eccentric trend of self-expression in defiance of any form of established order. The dictionary defines grotesque as a "satirical style in the arts intended to invoke a combined sense of horror and ridicule by means of exaggeration." The concept originated in prehistoric myths and rites, in ancient Greek and Roman comedy and dance, as well as in the popular tradition of the medieval carnival. The word "grotesque," derived from the Italian "grotto" (cave), alludes to the Renaissance discovery of ancient Roman murals in the basement of Emperor Nero's pleasure villa, Domus Aurea (Golden House). These pagan wall paintings, labeled grotesche, were fanciful and replete with anatomical contradictions: images of wild animals, human heads and flora, spliced with references to nymphs, satyrs, and centaurs. The qualities and attributes associated with the grotto itself - darkness, chaos and uncertainty, as well as protection, warmth and shelter - have since become key elements in the definition of the grotesque.
The exhibition features works by contemporary Israeli and international artists, who address the grotesque body - a radicalized, distorted, ridiculed body which exceeds its own boundaries, whose parts are ill-matched. This hybrid body is often identified as monstrous. As part of the elaborate discourse about body representations in contemporary art, the grotesque has acquired a metaphorical significance as representative of the zeitgeist. The grotesque body is presented as an allegory and a critique of a disorderly, flawed reality characterized by excess and lack of hierarchy.
The artists' attitudes toward the subjects of their works veer from cruelty, cynicism, and ridicule to identification and compassion. The works in the exhibition may be divided into two groups, underpinned by two fundamental conceptions, often intertwined: an approach accentuating the comic, carnivalesque, absurd, and humorous element versus an approach underscoring the alienated, tragic, intimidating element. This conflict is expressed through "tainted" humor, which is always accompanied by an air of anxiety, estrangement, and fear.
Like the hall of mirrors at an amusement park, the exhibition offers a myriad of mirrors through which to observe an eclectic, heterogeneous, unkempt reality. The reversal of law and order, the shift from high to low, from the spiritual to the mundane, from abstract to concrete, from the body's foreparts to its hind parts - all of these draw us closer to the visceral presence of the "flesh," which features in some of the works as both literal body and unbridled pictorial lavishness. As in the medieval carnival, these contemporary artists furnish us with keen, pungent tools whereby we may direct our gaze into our deepest fears and perhaps vanquish them with horror-tainted laughter.