Beauty Now — Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century

EXHIBITION 10.02 – 01.05.00

Beauty was long not a category in modern art – fashion, advertising and mass media had claimed it as their own. In recent years, however, a return of beauty in contemporary art has been evident. The exhibition "Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century" includes 86 paintings, photographs, sculptures, and installations by 36 artists, and spans the period from the 1960s to the present. The exhibition encourages renewed dialogue on beauty in art based on the question of what role it plays in contemporary art. 

The traditional idea that beauty follows objective standards such as symmetry, regularity, and proportion fundamentally influenced Western art and culture. Only at the end of the nineteenth century was this ideal of classical beauty called into question. Initiators of this reevaluation of the beautiful in modern art were the French poet Charles Baudelaire and French painters Eugène Delacroix and Edouard Manet. With them, art – constantly accompanied by an opposing aestheticism and its cult of beauty – began to attack the ideal of beauty. For artists of Classical Modernism, Cubists, Expressionists, and Surrealists; and especially postwar artists, beauty as such was not considered an artistic value. Pablo Picasso, in his later work, and Pop Art revolted against the traditional equalization of art and beauty, the beautiful in art. Not until the 1990s was there an intensified reassessment of art in terms of beauty. 

The exhibition is divided into two subject areas: The first focuses on exploring the classical ideal of beauty and the human body as the carrier of this idea; the second explores the experience of the sublime. Pipilotti Rist's video "Ever is Over All" (1997) introduces viewers to the exhibition with the ease of dance. Janine Antoni, Jannis Kounellis, Giulio Paolini, and Michelangelo Pistoletto grapple with the weight of the classical tradition. Imi Knoebel, Sigmar Polke, Charles Ray, Beverly Semmes, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, and Andy Warhol refer affirmatively or ironically to fashion, advertising, and mass media. Artists like Matthew Barney, Mariko Mori, Yasumasa Morimura, and Lorna Simpson explore the human body’s changeability and mutability, and whether this is the result of biological processes or external masquerades. The works of Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas, Lucian Freud, Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, and Kiki Smith set off in search of a new concept of beauty that also includes the grotesque. 

The second part of the exhibition focuses on perceptions of beauty and, for example, how it invokes atmospheric space. In landscape painting as in abstract art, the sublime gains form as an aesthetic experience and is integrated into a broader concept of beauty. Ideas of purity, filled emptiness, and perfect form are visualized in the works of Vija Celmins, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein, Agnes Martin, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, while artists like John Baldessari, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol question the belief in timeless beauty in landscape painting and abstract art. Rodney Graham doubts the beauty of nature, while Gerhard Richter, in his landscapes and abstract paintings, adopts the tradition of beautiful motifs and colors, but simultaneously refutes these by "smearing" them. Douglas Gordon's language games underscore the impossibility of finding a definition of beauty, and Jim Hodges and Felix Gonzalez-Torres make us aware of its volatility and transience. James Turrell finally renounces all conventional forms of expression and, in the immaterial colored light of his poetic light-space, illustrates the intangibility of beauty and the sublime. The exhibition closes with this view of boundless expanse. 

Gerhard Richter, Reader, 1994, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
Gerhard Richter, Reader, 1994, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962 © ARS, New York, photo Lee Stalsworth
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962 © ARS, New York, photo Lee Stalsworth
Lucian Freud, Nude With Lifted Leg (Leigh Bowery), 1992, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington
Lucian Freud, Nude With Lifted Leg (Leigh Bowery), 1992, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 4, 1994, Still © 1994 Matthew Barney, photo Michael James O'Brien, Courtesy Barbara Gladstone
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 4, 1994, Still © 1994 Matthew Barney, photo Michael James O'Brien, Courtesy Barbara Gladstone
Giulio Paolini, Mimesi, 1975-76, photo Robert Keziere, Courtesy the artist and the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation
Giulio Paolini, Mimesi, 1975-76, photo Robert Keziere, Courtesy the artist and the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi
Beauty Now – Beauty in Art at the End of the 20th Century, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi

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