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Exhibition: Curators’ Series #5. Bouvard and Pécuchet’s Compendious Quest for Beauty. By Simone Menegoi and Chris Sharp (5 Apr — 9 Jun 2012)

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An exhibition curated by Simone Menegoi and Chris Sharp with works by Caroline Achaintre, Phyllida Barlow, Yto Barrada, Morton Bartlett, Bram Bogart, Boyle Family, Sir Frank Brangwyn, Peter Buggenhout, Gerard Byrne, Carter, Susan Collis, Burt Glinn, George Condo, John Currin, Jules Dalou, Thomas Demand, VALIE EXPORT, Graham Hudson, Tamara De Lempicka, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Manders, Susan Meiselas, Marlo Pascual, Grayson Perry, Seth Pick, Man Ray, Santiago Sierra, David Shrigley, Jamie Shovlin, Andreas Slominski, Oscar Tuazon, Gavin Turk, and Douglas White.

Simone Menegoi and Chris Sharp are the fifth guest curators invited by DRAF to be part of the Curators’ Series. The title for the exhibition is taken from Gustave Flaubert’s last, unfinished novel where two Parisian copyists Bouvard and Pécuchet meet, become dear friends, and stoke each other’s curiosity to know the world and its rational, post-Enlightenment ways better. They become autodidacts of a dozen different orders, teaching themselves everything from agriculture to medicine. However, despite their best intellectual intentions, any application of the often contradictory knowledge they recklessly accumulate almost always results in confusion, failure or disaster. Yet success is not entirely elusive. One moment a given principle works, whereas in the next it doesn’t. This in turn leads them to continually cry in vain, Où est la règle? (Where is the rule?), as if the clarity and understanding of the supposedly knowable world promised by the Age of Reason was but a farce. In a time when any one individual can access and amass vast and even arcane stores of information, Flaubert’s hapless antiheroes seem to be both prescient harbingers and symbols of our era.

Their headlong approach can also be said to implicitly describe a good portion of what takes place in contemporary art today, in which we are faced with an obscure and at times questionable expertise on a bewildering multiplicity of subjects. Seeking to render this implicit tendency explicit and examine its implications, Bouvard and Pécuchet’s Compendious Quest for Beauty sees the hasty methodology of the perplexed copyists applied to the field of curating. By effectively becoming Bouvard and Pécuchet, the curators liberally allow themselves to engage in the foredoomed hubris of trying to define one of the most protean and subjective qualities of all: beauty. They do so by using a format that is a byproduct of the Enlightenment itself: the exhibition.

The selection of works in the exhibition was deliberately limited to DRAF’s vast and variegated collection of more than 1800 works. The curators outlined ten categories of beauty with the intention of disobeying and scrambling the traditional history of aesthetics. Indeed, the art works presented in the show are arranged within unwieldy and contradictory criteria, which range from egregious misreading to mutual contradiction and from poetic fancy to traditionally acceptable interpretation. Categories of beauty include: Classic; Expressive; Female Nude; Memento Mori; Realism; Landscape; Moral; Outsider art; Abstraction; and the Sublime.

 

Download exhibition leaflet here.

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  • Exhibition view.
Classic vs. Expression.
(From left to right) Mark Manders and Grayson Perry 
David Roberts Collection, London.
Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
    1/5Exhibition view. Classic vs. Expression. (From left to right) Mark Manders and Grayson Perry David Roberts Collection, London. Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
  • Exhibition view.
Landscape
(From left to right) Boyle Family, Peter Buggenhout, and Yto Barrada 
David Roberts Collection, London.
Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
    2/5Exhibition view. Landscape (From left to right) Boyle Family, Peter Buggenhout, and Yto Barrada David Roberts Collection, London. Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
  • Exhibition view.
Female Beauty
(From left to right) Morton Bartlett, VALIE EXPORT, and Sarah Lucas (left to right)
David Roberts Collection, London.
Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
    3/5Exhibition view. Female Beauty (From left to right) Morton Bartlett, VALIE EXPORT, and Sarah Lucas (left to right) David Roberts Collection, London. Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
  • Exhibition view.
Realism
(From left to right) Thomas Demand, Gavin Turn and Susan Collis 
David Roberts Collection, London.
Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
    4/5Exhibition view. Realism (From left to right) Thomas Demand, Gavin Turn and Susan Collis David Roberts Collection, London. Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
  • Exhibition view.
Female Beauty
(From the top left) George Condo, Man Ray, Susan Meiselas, John Currin, Tamare De Lempicka, Burt Glinn, Marlo Pascual
David Roberts Collection, London.
Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà
    5/5Exhibition view. Female Beauty (From the top left) George Condo, Man Ray, Susan Meiselas, John Currin, Tamare De Lempicka, Burt Glinn, Marlo Pascual David Roberts Collection, London. Image courtesy Alessandra Chilà