Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pretty Ugly by Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis

Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis did their best to convince me that their show at 12 x 16, Pretty Ugly, is about aesthetics in popular culture. What objects are pretty and what are ugly and how do we react to them? They divided color palettes and rooms into ugly and pretty as a point of departure.

Something they observed in this video was how we often find “ugly” more interesting, deeper, more provocative intellectually. The artists observed how people want to go deeper with ugly – whereas “pretty” was often trivialized, written off as thin and one dimensional. If something is pretty, no big deal.

And guess which gender is attached to which? Much of the show was amusing, but the observation in this video that “If you pit Pretty against Ugly, Ugly always wins,” gave me pause for thought. I know some pretty women making pretty art. It can make for a double dip of doubt.


Sheree Rensel said...

OK Eva,
Here goes. Gosh, the thoughts are flooding into my head. I need to be concise here. Ok. Let's see.
When the video opens and the plastic bottles are shown, it was a big yawn. However, I listened to the explanation. OK
As the camera progressed through the "UGLY" gallery my next thought was "Gee is this ever a disconnected show (?)" Later when one of the artists explained the show was put together quickly, I understood one reason for the disjointed appearance of the exhibition as a whole. I still gave it to them though. Who am I to judge?
Then we were shown the "PRETTY" gallery. With each piece shown, the hairs on my arms started to rise higher and higher. The show still looked haphazard, but all the references to PINK and GENDER and "PRETTY" (female), blah! blah! blah! The attempts to explain the aesthetics of pink and shiny, along with the guy dressed in the skirt made me cringe. I felt like I was listening to a bad joke being told. When I saw that mannequin head with the smear of coral pink lipstick, I was horrified. It was at that point you asked what I wanted to ask. How is all this stuff related to gender? The response was more yadda, yadda, yadda. When he said he just thought of that answer, I nodded, "Yeah, I can tell."
I didn't believe this show. I don't believe the motives. I don't believe the quality. I don't believe the artist's intent. I think they meant well, but it just didn't fly with me.
The most frustrating thing is I don't think either artist understands why so much of the "PRETTY" stuff is so UGLY (conceptually). Maybe to be able to comprehend why this art, some of the nearly tongue-in-cheek explanations, and the concepts behind the work are so offensive to me, you might have to be a female. I don't know. Maybe it is a "girl thing", No?
P.S. There is nothing wrong with exploring this idea of pretty=feminine=pink. I think that is a great topic for art research. However, it seems like the PRETTY side of the gallery was so gender charged. I ask why the UGLY side wasn’t the flip of the gender coin. It is a yin/yang world! If that had been the overall thesis and the work was thoughtful and well executed, it could have been a very interesting, powerful exhibition!
It could have been.

Eva said...

Your last idea is interesting Sheree. OK if pretty means female. But then the flipside would mean connecting the ugly side of the show with the male.

namastenancy said...

I was completely put off by the poop bag on the opening web page. What has that to do with art? To me, using feces is a lazy and disgusting way to try and be "cutting edge" and "provocative. " Didn't work for me. I also question the whole theory behind the show. What is pretty and what is ugly are ideas that depend on culture, gender, location, race, you name it. But, like Sheree, I was offended and also, bored, and also, horrified. At this point in time, we sure don't need more (mostly) male takes on women. Thanks, but no thanks. However, THANK YOU for putting this up so that we can look at it, comment and understand.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eva
It is said that societies or cultures get the art they deserve. This exhibit is just one of the countless that mirror the cultures disdain/jealousy of art/artists. Of course, IMHO a real deal artist will not be pleading poverty as partial explanation of the work unless that is part of the conceptual framework, which after viewing this video (more is always revealed to the artist After the process) may be seen by these artists as a viable part of the work. One more comment in this direction, it is the spiritual poverty that is mirrored more than the material poverty because the imbalance in our society's lack of spiritual values’ more than a lack of anything else.
Yes it is a yin yang world, the problem being that there is too much yang (grit, utility, outer directed power, meaning in the “serious” worldly sense-masculine) and not enough yin (refinement, play, inner originated power in the “spiritual” meditative sense-feminine) and the imbalance is nicely expressed in this show.
Because the yin or feminine is denigrated and oppressed, beauty degenerates into a prettiness associated with falsity (note that it is vampires that cannot cast a reflection in a mirror) and rather than value of positive aspects of yin, yin is confined to surface "pretty" preocupations such as fashion. Not that anything is wrong with that-actually I see more art in fashion these days than a lot of so called art.
Maybe the cages (which are attractive in their function as well as reverberation and metaphor) could be placed in between the two rooms.I’d like to see this show develop further as statement about all of this.
Anyway Eva- I always enjoy your writing, so here is my 2 cents on this-
Love Always
Virginia B

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for all the comments!

amysmithgarofano said...

Just need to comment so I don't stew with annoyance... The artists' stated intentions and the end product don't match up here. They aim to do a kind of conceptual comparison of pretty and ugly and want to make viewers think about how we respond to the two. BUT, they created the work out of their decision (and some "research" in an article they didn't read) that ugly = interesting and pretty = trivial... so no wonder their ugly work is semi-interesting while their "pretty" work is not at all pretty and is really just boring kitsch! Not the fair comparison they were going for. The gender associations are just a manifestation of the conceptual confusion at the core of this show... They're floundering at the end and you can see that their whole premise of the show is a sham and not very thought out. Pretty offensive. Thanks for calling them on it, Eva!

half an artist said...

As 1/2 of the artist team involved, I might say a few things. In the show, we are looking at the aesthetic in our choices; we are not looking at giving a read.
No one should expect us to come up with something new and different in addressing cultural stereotypes. Our visual world has not changed and people have not advanced beyond their usual banalities in judgment.

I must agree the show would also be interesting if we just focused on a pretty/woman, ugly/man dichotomy. Men are ugly in this culture; they don’t in general want to use beauty products or make-up. But other things can be ugly as well, and we went for the larger case.

We both find it interesting that when someone takes the commonplace out of the commonplace, it suddenly becomes a charged issue.

See the actual show and decide for yourself.