November 2 – December 15, 2013, 1717 Troutman #327, Queens, NY
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 2, 7 – 10 pm
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror. . .” Rainer Marie Rilke
Ortega y Gasset Projects is pleased to present Ornament and Crime, an exhibition organized by Lauren F. Adams comprised of artworks by Stephanie Syjuco, David Mabb, Stacy Lynn Waddell, and Susanne Slavick. The exhibition contends with the Adolf Loos essay from 1913 of the same name—a provocative and supremacist philosophy of how ornament and decoration impairs modern society, not only through wasted labor but also by embodying that which is degenerate or unsophisticated. Unlike Loos, the artists included in this exhibition engage ornament not as mere style or form, but as a platform to debate the political and societal concerns of our time.
Together, the works in this exhibition are actively defying what Loos described as the greatness of the modern age, “freedom from ornament.” Instead, these works seek to illuminate the weight of history, resuscitating or borrowing archival patterns in an effort to elucidate contemporary notions about political order, social hierarchies, and constructed authenticity. Existing between homage and critique, the artworks in the exhibition utilize ornament as a sort of Trojan horse — acting as subversive cover to reveal disruptive or terrible truths.
Installations by Stephanie Syjuco of various ‘ethnic’ and ‘tribal’ patterns question the very categories that we assign to regional patterns in the amnesiac globalized marketplace. Syjuco achieves this through appropriation, such as in the Dazzle Camouflage Propositions, which pictures Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in France, covered with Vietnamese and Algerian patterns. The result is the contrasting of iconic modernist architecture with decorative languages that are native to countries colonized by France, and eventually emancipated through brutal wars. Syjuco’s interventions are simple juxtapositions that reveal contested histories — a visual contradiction resulting in an uneasy reconciliation.
The paintings of Susanne Slavick feature photographs found online (and altered) of the physical devastation of recent wars in the Middle East. She combines these with decorative painted embellishments derived from the art and architecture of the sites and cultures pictured. Layering contemporary imagery of rubble and ruin with ornamental details from historical sources, works such as Restore: Sarafiya Star over the Tigris are intended to reveal physical and cultural loss and to recuperate through aesthetic means. As Slavick notes, “The presence of this ornate detail insists that the targets of war are neither faceless enemies nor sites devoid of culture. They are not just anywhere but somewhere, not just anyone but someone.” In this regard, Slavick’s works counter Loos’ insistence that the forward progress of modernity requires selective eradication of the nuance of lived human experience, exhibited through the embellishment of everyday forms.
Stacy Lynn Waddell burns, singes, stains and gilds the surfaces of walls and paper in an effort to recontextualize historical narratives and classical representation. Repetitive acts of destruction create new surfaces of subversive beauty and visual conflict. Concerned with African American cultural history, iconographic images such as the works of the Hudson River School, and the labor and trace of the artist’s hand, Waddell’s artworks utilize personal symbolism in search of the universal patterns which unite us.
David Mabb presents Highlights from the Morris Kitsch Archive, a selection from a collection that contains over 500 images, largely drawn from the Internet, of commercial objects decorated with 19th century William Morris patterns. Isolating aesthetic history as a commodity, Mabb’s archive clarifies the tension between Morris’ utopian ideals of fine craft and pre-industrial labor roles and capitalism’s post-industrial consumption endgame. In Mabb’s words, the trace of Morris in the 21st century “has acted as a form of iconoclasm, undermining the integrity of Morris’s design and production, obscuring their utopian and therefore critical potential; it leaves no evidence of Morris’s politics, whilst appearing to celebrate him.”