Where Beauty Meets Decay
We may be well past the turn of the century, but it still feels a fine moment for fin-de-siècle decadence—and so for the show called "A Rebours" that launches a new gallery called Venus Over Manhattan, on New York's Upper East Side. The show's title copies the name of the great decadent novel published by Joris-Karl Huysmans in 1884, in which a fading aristocrat, the Duc des Esseintes, explores the far shores of aesthetic pleasure. (His art collection includes a live tortoise covered in gems and a "flavor organ" on which he can play gustatory fugues.)
Adam Lindemann, the New York investor, author and collector who founded the new gallery, says that this first show is "broadly inspired" by Huysman's project, and by the "decadence of the current art world." The show is "a projection of the duke into the 21st century.... It suits my personality. I'm rather cynical and negative." (In the spirit of his show, at a preview he's speaking impeccable upper-class French: "Je veux un certain mystère .... Je voulais tout faire différemment.")
Two spiky candlesticks by the French artist César greet you as you come in, and help brighten a room otherwise lit only by spots. There's a bizarre, overheated piece of neurasthenic medievalism painted by Gustave Moreau around 1885, and a painting from 2000 by the Englishman Glenn Brown: it could easily pass for the decaying portrait in Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray".
A dark 1793 fairy painting by Henri Fuseli, pioneer of the Romantic movement in art, joins forces with some of the great proto-surreal drawings that Odillon Redon made in the 1880s and 90s. And all that fine art rubs shoulders with a real (so Lindemann insists) shrunken head from the Amazon, and with "cannibal daggers" from Papua New Guinea.
For more recent work, there's a huge—and distinctly vaginal—new hanging by Piotr Uklanski (it riffs on Magdalena Abakanowicz's "Abakan Red," a feminist classic from 1969) and a video by Lucas Samaras that turns the act of boning a chicken into kaleidoscopic chaos. "It's beautiful—in a very debauched way," concludes Lindemann.
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