L: Madeleine Preston, R: Lynda Draper
Chelsea Lehmann, The Snake (after Cagnacci), 2018, oil on linen, 205 x 170 cm
2 May – 27 May 2018
Bad Mannerism brings together artists of diverse sensibilities, each of whom explores a non-conventional approach to figuration. The theme ‘Bad Mannerism’ is centred on the potential subversiveness of the Mannerist style, in which artifice and exaggeration are employed as strategies to playfully critique ‘virtuosity’, especially in relation to idealisations of the body and the objects it encounters. This coalesces with the common understanding of mannerisms as idiosyncratic human gestures or foibles—good, ‘bad’ or otherwise. A sly pun is also set in motion by the allusion to ill-considered social comportment, or a lack of politesse, suggesting artworks may be unapologetic in what they propose—in their unashamed ambiguity, performativity, or curious materiality. The Mannerist approach reflects a tendency amongst various artistic traditions to eschew naturalism in favour of the affective impact of ‘eccentric’ figuration.’1
The exhibition references the art historical context of Mannerism, a 16th Century style that reacted to the aesthetic apotheosis of the High Renaissance by deploying stylistic devices such as collapsed perspective, irrational settings, elongated forms and precariously balanced poses. The freedom of invention and heightened emotional pitch of Mannerist works indicated a reorientation of the role of the artist as a resourceful and independent thinker, unburdened by the cultural supremacy of the High Renaissance and its artistic and social orthodoxies. Other characteristics common to Mannerist works include distortion of the human figure, a flattening of pictorial space, and elaborate decoration. A number of these attributes were maintained in the successive period of Baroque art, which also featured such characteristics as high drama and implied movement — qualities that are present in many of the artworks in Bad Mannerism.
The idea of ‘bella maniera’ (beautiful style), associated with the Mannerists’ appropriating strategies and their divestment of naturalism, is central to the aesthetic and conceptual intention of the exhibition. Bella maniera was theorised as an approach that employed the best from a number of sources, synthesizing it into something new. This is a familiar paradigm in the 21st Century where an atemporal or anachronic perspective frames art historical time as a vast ‘internet’ of artificial designations in which tradition is an un-concluded agenda, rather than a series of ruins, or something that has been stabilised once and for all. Many of the artists in Bad Mannerism quote art historical images, objects or techniques and reanimate these sources with concerns from the present.
The Mannerist sensibility resembles Susan Sontag’s ideas on camp where the world might be seen ‘not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylisation.’2 It celebrates the eccentric and the performative by openly exemplifying the constructs and conceits that visual art deploys to bring attention to both itself and the object of artistic application. While Mannerism has also been framed pejoratively—hence the not unwelcome connotation of ‘wrongness’, pastiche or anti-climax—the artwork in this exhibition shows how the ‘mannered’ and the authentic are not mutually exclusive. This perspective acknowledges that humour can already reside in the serious, ‘reality’ in the artificial, and doubt in what might appear outwardly certain.
1. ‘Eccentric Figuration’ is a term that has gained currency in recent years, and was largely informed by the 1978 exhibition Bad Painting at the New Museum, New York. The curator of the exhibition (and the museum’s director at the time) Marcia Tucker, said of the exhibition, ‘“Bad” Painting is an ironic title for ‘good’ painting, which is characterized by deformation of the figure, a mixture of art-historical and non-art sources, and fantastic and irreverent content.’ The term also appears in the catalogue essay for Eccentric Figuration: The Painting in NY Group (Jennifer Samet, ‘Painting in New York’, May 19 th – 29 th , 2011), and in Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age: Gesture and Spectacle, Eccentric Figuration, Social Networks, Eds. Manuela Ammer, Achim Hochdörfer, and David Joselit, Museum Brandhorst, Munich, 2016.
2. Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’, in Against Interpretation, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,