Life is (not) Beautiful? Artworks that make you go eewww!

As a counterpoint to yesterday’s post about beauty’s manifestation as “sexy,” I thought I would pull together 4 examples of works of art where “ugly” – for some reason or another – appears to be beautiful.

No. 1: Diane Arbus For those of you who come by my office at work, you are surprised to find a large photo poster of an albino sword swallower, which accurately depicts how I feel at work each day, by the way. This work is by 20th century photographer Diane Arbus who focused on marginalized people including carnival freaks, people with Down’s Syndrome, transvestites, etc. Though not seen as shocking, per se, now, Arbus was one of the first photographers to get wall space  at MoMA with works that the general public found distasteful due to its subject matter. Now, we see her works as part of a larger viewpoint which insists on including all people from our communities in the collective work of art. Here is “Patriotic Young Man with a Flag.”

No. 2: Hieronymus Bosch Moving backwards in time, let’s talk about Hieronymus Bosch, who was a 15th century Dutch painter. Yep folks, while others were painting pictures of the Virgin Mary, Christ’s crucifixion, etc Bosch was painting pictures of everything you want to be doing but can’t be doing because you’re a good Christian woman. His thought? Show the decadence of life in juxtaposition to the hell that you will encounter if you engage such activities and people will be reminded to stay on the straight and narrow. For me, however, “Garden of Earthly Delights” is a multi-layered narrative whose fantastical imagery of beauty and horror make you want to stand in front of it for quite some time, which I did with JB when we visited the Prado in Madrid last year.

No. 3: Chaim Soutine Chaim Soutine must be included here because alongside his Parisian contemporaries — Modigliani and Picasso– his work was, well, sometimes gross. Rotting flesh notwithstanding,  his colors and compositions are so rich that you cannot help but be drawn to them, though you might risk food poisoning. Soutine’s work are, unfortunately, primarily in European museums (I saw several at Centre Pompidou in Paris) but I first found Soutine when the Barnes Collection came to the Kimbell in Fort Worth many. Here is “Piece of Beef.”

No. 4: Francis  Bacon Another painter I discovered while living in Dallas is the wonderful Francis Bacon. The originator of “Bad Boy British Artists” whose legacy was passed onto Damien Hirst, Bacon’s works are just hard. With a style that makes you feel like the soul of the object is being pulled out of the canvas ready to inhabit your body like a horror movie, Bacon’s psychological depiction of Catholic Popes and even himself leave you feeling equal parts scared and sad. Here is “Head VI”

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