Wolves Hide Under a White Coat
Natalie Massone Saiph
Frida Khalo, The Small Deer. 1946, oil on canvas
The relationship between human and animal is a theme that has threaded itself through art and literature since ancient times. MART’s recent exhibition offers a journey across the centuries: from ancient art to medieval bestiaries; from symbolist representations to contemporary artworks. We are used to hiding our instincts, the dark or weaker sides of ourselves. We are used to the hypocritical disguises of the contemporary hangmen. We are used to repressing our impulses after humiliation in an effort to comply with social rules imposed by our so-called "civil" society. "The Beauty and the Beasts" show breaks all these rules, presenting a variety of representations of how we really are and how we really feel.
The visitor of the exhibition is obliged to face the truth of human reality, to face our worst instincts and our most insidious weaknesses without shame. Note how difficult it is to describe these things shamelessly; "worst" and "insidious" are loaded words. This exhibition affirms that to act as an animal is not shameful, but an integral part of the human being. The exhibition showcases almost 180 pieces, coming from the collections of many international museums, such as the Louvre or The Alte Nationalgalerie of Berlin. In the MART’s showrooms, the visitor can admire unique, fascinating artworks, varying in age, style and meaning, but all of them revealing the complexity of the conflict between the rational and the animal, between reason and instinct, between the ideal beauty and the reality of violence, sexuality and death.
The exhibition has an immediate impact on the visitor, plunging the viewer into an enchanting and spectacular atmosphere. I felt like I was walking through a sort of "universal" human soul, made of the infinite emotions, fears and anxieties that take refuge in our animalistic instincts but are rarely expressed. The consciousness of the human being losing control over the body is the climactic point of the exhibition, perfectly embodied by Francis Bacon’s paintings: Chimpazee (1959), Portrait of Michel Leiris (1978) and Sphinx: Portrait of Muriel Belcher (1979). In Bacon’s artworks, I could perceive the torment of the painted souls, each emerging in the suffering and deformed bodies. I could hear the screaming voices of those creatures in pain. The violence of the animal instinct also overwhelms Matthew Barney’s subjects, in which reason serves terror. Observing Cremaster 4, I could sense the subtle naughtiness of the worst of human instinct coming to light and asserting itself in the real world. The hybrid is then represented through ancient myths, as in the Sphinx as seen by Moreau, in the Minotaur drawn by Picasso, in Delvaux’ surrealist Siren and in the gnome Siren in Koons’ representation. It is also prevalent in the Medusa in Fontana’s big mosaic as well as in Pisani’s installation and in Rainer’s artwork. Typical symbolist visions can be found in Rodin, Ernst, Magritte, Picabia, Clemente, in Frida Khalo’s Small Deer and in the slug and peacock-women of Putz.
The absolute-natural also becomes the territory of reconquering reality, as in Beuys’ performance I like America and America likes me, where the artist meets and collides with a coyote. The likeness of human and animal is once more evident in Pane’s and Abramovic’s performances. Our alternating closeness to and distance from our instinct is explored biologically, as in Dubuffet’s portraits, which are made with real dead butterflies, or in Bourgeois’s Spider, realized as a collation of dead insects.
The exhibition closes with a section dedicated to the dream, carnival, comic and grotesque, where the human-animal relationship is represented by Chagall’s wedding, Wegman’s canine figures and Cattelan’s suicidal squirrel. The last section was essential to the exhibition: the visitor can rest in mind and spirit, as the melding of the grotesque and the comic aid in the return to the "civilized" world. where. With a little bitterness and melancholy, I left the showrooms, back to a world where wolves hide under a white coat.
"THE BEAUTY AND THE BEASTS: Metamorphosis, artifices and hybrids from myth to scientific imaginary"curates by Giorgio Verzotti and Lea Vergine
MART Rovereto, 11th December 2004 — 8th May 2005