23.02.16 – 16.04.16

The Conformist

 

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 

 

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. The exhibition will feature contributions by Jonathan Baldock, Aubrey Beardsley, Leigh Bowery, Helen Bullock, Jennifer Campbell, Helen Chadwick, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Eric Gill, Paul Housley, Paul Gorman, Lady Emma Hamilton, Stephen Jones, Paul Kindersley, Malcolm McLaren , Richard Malone, Julia Muggenburg, David Parkinson, Robert Rush, Julie Verhoeven, Denton Welch, and Rose Wylie.

 

 

 

Jah Wobble’s Soundtrack to ‘The Conformist’

 

01: Tyger Tyger - Jah Wobble (from The Inspiration Of William Blake, 30Hertz Records, 1996)

 

02: Boredom - Buzzcocks (Spiral Scratch EP, New Hormones, 1977)

 

03: King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown - Augustus Pablo & King Tubby (King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Yard International, 1976)

 

04: I Wanna Be Your Dog - The Stooges (The Stooges, Elektra, 1969)

 

05: Wolf In Shepp Clothing - Big Youth (single, Trojan Records, 1975)

 

06: Isley Brothers (Fight the Power (Part 1&2) -  The Isley Brothers (The Heat Is On, T-Neck, 1975)

 

07: Winter In America - Gil Scott -Heron & Brian Jackson (The First Minute Of A New Day, Arista, 1975)

 

08: Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell (Ladies Of the Canyon, Reprise, 1970)

 

09: If 6 Was 9 - Jimi Hendrix Experience (Axis: Bold As Love, Reprise, 1969)

 

10: Big Brother (Natural Wonder) - Stevie Wonder (Talking Book, Tamla, 1972)

 

11: 3 O'Clock Road Block - Bob Marley & The Wailers (Natty Dread, Island, 1974)

 

12: Journey In Satchidananda - Alice Coltrane (Journey In Satchidananda, Impulse!, 1971)

 

13: Bitches Brew - Miles Davis (Bitches Brew, Columbia, 1970)

 

 

Leigh Bowery
Hair Pin Jacket, 1980s
Paul Kindersley
Lady Hamilton's Attitudes, 2014
Film, 7:02 min
Robert Rush
Large Orange Figure (God/King/Tyrant) With Pot, 2013
Oil on canvas with handmade hardwood frame
125 x 94cm
Jonathan Baldock
Corn Dolly Masks (I-IV), 2013-2014
Sheafs of wheat, glue and paint
Paul Housley
Head of an English Iconoclast, 2016
Glazed painted clay
8 x 14 x 20cm
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd
Hat Shop Owner and Long Pants Legs, 2014
mixed media
25 x 10 x 10cm each
Rose Wylie
Nazi (Germany wins the World Cup), 2014
Watercolour and collage on paper
89 x 62cm
Rose Wylie
Hawthorn Leaf (II), 2015
Oil on paper
84 x 60cm
Rose Wylie
Lightening (Wrong), 2014
Ink and collage on paper
89 x 62cm
Rose Wylie
Lightening (Wrong), 2014
Ink and collage on paper
89 x 62cm
Rose Wylie
A 400 Farnborough (Blue Sky), 2014
Watercolour, ink and collage on paper
62 x 89cm
Rose Wylie
Black Cherry (Thin Stalk), 2013
Watercolour and collage on paper
86 x 60cm
Helen Chadwick
Ruin , 1986
Cibachrome photograph
91.5 x 46cm
Julie Verhoeven
Phlegm & Fluff, 2015
Film, 04:19
Jonathan Baldock
A Universal Language, 2015
acrylic paint with hessian eyes
25 x 20 cm each
Helen Bullock
Window installation
Helen Bullock
Detail, window installation
Rober Rush
Partial Crown with Faces (London and West Sussex), 2015
Ceramic
Jennifer Campbell
Rasppery, 2016
Mixed media
Jennifer Campbell
Pinched, 2016
Mixed media
Jennifer Campbell
Cold Toast, 2016
Mixed media
David Parkinson
The Continental Bentley, 1975
Club International, Volume 3, No 5
David Parkinson
Untitled, 1970
Entry for final year project, photography course, Regent Street Polytechnic