Curated by Alistair Hicks. Since the beginning of the 20th century, in a claim to modernity, ‘unnecessary’ decoration was removed from any work of art and architecture. Today, this idea seems obsolete. Most of the artists included in this show believe that it’s possible to be modern and embrace ornament.
In his 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime”, Adolf Loos, declared that you could not be decorative and modern. He makes no good arguments for this outrageous claim, just asserts it. Yet this view of Modernism has under-pinned the last hundred years of mainstream Western art history. This exhibition is devoted to contemporary artists who are resisting Loos' edict. They are finding their own balance between simplicity and ornament. The aim of this show is not only to make people re-examine their prejudice against ornament but rather to show that a curved line is every bit as revealing about the way we think and feel as a straight line.
Kamrooz Aram (an Iranian/American artist) observed that at a drop of a pen Loos dismissed two thirds of the world. Loos' strictures were taken up by Bauhaus and then almost every mainstream art school. Aram teaches in Parsons in New York, but sets out to heal the false rift between ornament and austerity. Waqas Khan (Pakistan) does not formally break any of Loos' rules, but the spirit of abstracted, rhythmic drawings are totally against such a limiting vision. For Zheng Guogu (China) who was educated after the Cultural Revolution, Loos' aesthetics and 'tasteful' ideas are a laughable irrelevance. What did Loos mean by: “No-one can create ornament now who lives on our level of culture.” The works of Nikita Alexeev (Russia), a third generation Soviet, are hung here on a dividing wall that resembles the iconostasis that kept the people and their priests apart. He is not preaching with either words or images but letting them blur together so we find our own meaning somewhere between them.
The exhibition has a strong Turkish contingent : Fahrelnissa Zeid, Nilbar Güres, Asli Cavusoglu and Cansu Cakar. Alistair Hicks considers Istanbul as a barometer to the art world. The youngest of these, Cansu Cakar, has been given the most responsible role. She has created a six-page illustrated manuscript of the complete text of “Ornament and Crime”. It is only by reading every word does one realise how ridiculous his assertions were that have so distorted our lives. The final insult, as far as Loos is concerned is that the manuscript is unashamedly decorative, and she depicts the taste dictator with Papuan tattoos.
Senkichiro Nasaka, a member of the Japanese avant-garde movement Gutai, will be shown alongside Fahrelnissa Zeid, two artists who are now getting the attention they deserved but missed out in their prime as they lived in a world dominated by Loos' snobbery.