23 February 2016 — 16 April 2016

23 Feb 2016 — 16 Apr 2016

The Conformist

In 2016, Belmacz will present The Conformist. Organised by artist Paul Kindersley, the exhibition draws its title from Bernardo Bertolucci’s cult 1970 film — a study in the conformist psychology of fascism – and it poses the same questions of what it means to conform or to deviate. Ranging between aestheticism and attitudinizing, beauty and banality, the display moves from the eighteenth century to the present, to throw a spotlight on some of the eccentric, recherché and taboo aspects of creativity at different moments in history. The Conformist brings together some twenty artists, designers, writers, performers, utopians, outsiders, posers, perverts and other figures who have affronted or inverted the idea of ‘conformity’. By turns contemporary and arcane, gilded and abject, the exhibition celebrates those aspects of creativity that have skirted on the perimeter of the ‘mainstream’.


Running through The Conformist is a chorus of historical revenants and references, foremost among them the ghost of Lady Emma Hamilton (1765 – 1815), a low-born woman who became the wife of Sir William Hamilton — British ambassador to Naples and an avid archaeologist, volcanologist and collector. Emma was also notoriously the lover of Lord Nelson (her story was fictionalised by Susan Sontag in her 1992 novel The Volcano Lover). Abrasive and alluring, Emma charmed Europe’s elite with her performances of classical ‘attitudes’, or mythological poses. In The Conformist, she appears in the form of a print after one of George Romney’s feted portraits of her, and is also alluded to in a piece of jewellery newly designed by Julia Muggenburg, which invokes the English tradition of the commemorative jewel.


Hamilton’s persona — a crucible of erudition and eroticism, cultivation and crudeness — pervades The Conformist. It finds parallels in the outré drawings of Aubrey Beardsley — represented in the form of original copies of The Savoy, a short-lived fin de siècle periodical from 1896 — and the lives and works of figures including Eric Gill and Leigh Bowery, each of whom maintained a fine, fragile balance between flamboyance and reserve in their works and deeds. In its shape and sensibility, the exhibition also channels the spirit of Denton Welch’s 1944 novel In Youth is Pleasure, which evokes the author’s adolescence through a loosely-plotted sequence of eroticised sensations and visions.


Mirroring these disparate historical sources is a selection of contemporary art and design that echoes the variety of the German Rumpelkammer (a chamber of motley objects and objets, a trove of things ‘knocking about’ like so much antiquarian loot). Conceived as a grotto, the exhibition throws the concept of collecting into relief: individually and collectively, the artworks speak of the piratical desire that drives the collector (Sir William Hamilton was an insatiable hoarder of antiquities and contemporary art, erotica and esoterica).


Through disparate lenses, The Conformist will trace some of the shifting and contradictory fashions, fixations and subcurrents that have defined creativity from the days of Lady Hamilton to the present — profanity, romanticism, smut, beauty, camp, cliché, bloody-mindedness, exuberance, quiddity and vulgarity.



“Beauty must be exhibited. And beauty must be taught how best to exhibit itself.”

— Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover, 1992


“Tea and coffee and cigarettes produce conversation; lager beer and pipes produce routine journalism; wine and gallantry produce brilliant journalism, essays and novels; brandy and cigars produce violently devotional or erotic poetry; morphia produces tragic exaltation (useful on the stage); and sobriety produces an average curate’s sermon.”

— George Bernard Shaw, ‘On Going To Church’, The Savoy, No. 1, January 1896

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  • Window installation

    Helen Bullock

    Window installation

  • Window installation (detail)

    Installation View

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  • Hair Pin Jacket

    Leigh Bowery

    Hair Pin Jacket, 1980s

  • Ruin

    Helen Chadwick

    Ruin, 1986

    cibachrome photograph
    91.5 × 46cm

  • Corn Dolly Masks (I-IV)

    Corn Dolly Masks (I-IV), 2013–2014

    sheafs of wheat, glue and paint

  • Nazi (Germany wins the World Cup)

    Rose Wylie

    Nazi (Germany wins the World Cup), 2014

    watercolour and collage on paper
    89 × 62cm

  • Hawthorn Leaf (II)

    Rose Wylie

    Hawthorn Leaf (II), 2015

    oil on paper
    84 × 60cm

  • Lightening (Wrong)

    Rose Wylie

    Lightening (Wrong), 2014

    ink and collage on paper
    89 × 62cm

  • Lightening (Wrong)

    Rose Wylie

    Lightening (Wrong), 2014

    ink and collage on paper
    89 × 62cm

  • A 400 Farnborough (Blue Sky)

    Rose Wylie

    A 400 Farnborough (Blue Sky), 2014

    watercolour, ink and collage on paper
    62 × 89cm

  • Black Cherry (Thin Stalk)

    Rose Wylie

    Black Cherry (Thin Stalk), 2013

    watercolour and collage on paper
    86 × 60cm

  • Head of an English Iconoclast

    Paul Housley

    Head of an English Iconoclast, 2016

    glazed painted clay
    8 × 14 × 20cm

  • Hat Shop Owner and Long Pants Legs

    Marvin Gaye Chetwynd

    Hat Shop Owner and Long Pants Legs, 2014

    mixed media
    25 × 10 × 10cm (each)

  • Large Orange Figure (God/King/Tyrant) With Pot

    Robert Rush

    Large Orange Figure (God/King/Tyrant) With Pot, 2013

    oil on canvas with handmade hardwood frame
    125 × 94cm

  • Lady Hamilton's Attitudes

    Paul Kindersley

    Lady Hamilton's Attitudes, 2014

    7mins 2secs

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  • Iceskaters

    Eric Gill


  • Pinched

    Jennifer Campbell

    Pinched, 2016

  • Cold Toast

    Jennifer Campbell

    Cold Toast, 2016

  • Rasppery

    Jennifer Campbell

    Rasppery, 2016

    mixed media

  • T-Shirt with Amy Lyons

    Malcom McLaren

    T-Shirt with Amy Lyons

  • Partial Crown with Faces (London and West Sussex)

    Robert Rush

    Partial Crown with Faces (London and West Sussex), 2015


  • A Universal Language

    A Universal Language, 2015

    acrylic paint with hessian eyes
    25 × 20 cm (each)

  • Phlegm & Fluff

    Julie Verhoeven

    Phlegm & Fluff, 2015

    film 4min 19sec

  • Stephen Jones

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  • The Continental Bentley

    David Parkinson

    The Continental Bentley

    club international, volume 3, no 5

  • Untitled

    David Parkinson

    Untitled, 1970

    entry for final year project, photography course, regent street polytechnic


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