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Curators' Series #5 - Bouvard and Pécuchet's Compendious Quest for Beauty - David Roberts Art Foundation

5 April - 9 June 2012
Gallery: David Roberts Art Foundation

Chris Sharp and Simone Menegoi are the fifth guest curators invited by D.R.A.F. to be part of the Curators' Series. The title for the exhibition is taken from Gustave Flaubert's last, unfinished novel where two Parisian copyists Bouvard and Pécuchet meet, become dear friends, and stoke each other's curiosity to know the world and its rational, post-Enlightenment ways better. They become autodidacts of a dozen different orders, teaching themselves everything from agriculture to medicine. However, despite their best intellectual intentions, any application of the often contradictory knowledge they recklessly accumulate almost always results in confusion, failure or disaster. Yet success is not entirely elusive. One moment a given principle works, whereas in the next it doesn’t. This in turn leads them to continually cry in vain, Où est la règle? (Where is the rule?), as if the clarity and understanding of the supposedly knowable world promised by the Age of Reason were but a farce.

In a time when any one individual can access and amass vast and even arcane stores of information, Flaubert's hapless antiheroes seem to be both prescient harbingers and symbols of our era. Their headlong approach can also be said to implicitly describe a good portion of what takes place in contemporary art today, in which we are faced with an obscure and at times questionable expertise on a bewildering multiplicity of subjects. Seeking to render this implicit tendency explicit and examine its implications, Bouvard and Pécuchet's Compendious Quest for Beauty sees curators Simone Menegoi and Chris Sharp apply the hasty methodology of the perplexed copyists to the field of curating. By effectively becoming Bouvard and Pécuchet, they liberally allow themselves to engage in the foredoomed hubris of trying to define one of the most protean and subjective qualities of all: beauty. They do so by using a format that is a byproduct of the Enlightenment itself: the exhibition.

The selection of works in the exhibition was deliberately limited to D.R.A.F.’s vast and
variegated collection of more than 1800 works. The curators outlined ten categories of beauty with the intention of disobeying and scrambling the traditional history of
aesthetics. Indeed, the art works presented in the show are arranged within unwieldy and contradictory criteria, which range from egregious misreading to mutual contradiction and from poetic fancy to traditionally acceptable interpretation. Categories of beauty include: Classic; Expressive; Female Nude; Memento Mori; Realism; Landscape; Moral; Outsider art; Abstraction; and the Sublime.

Artists: Caroline Achaintre, Phyllida Barlow, Yto Barrada, Morton Bartlett, Bram Bogart, Boyle Family, Sir Frank Brangwyn, Peter Buggenhout, Gerard Byrne, Carter, Susan Collis, George Condo, John Currin, Jules Dalou, Thomas Demand, VALIE EXPORT, Graham Hudson, Tamara De Lempicka, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Manders, Susan Meiselas, Marlo Pascual, Grayson Perry, Seth Pick, Man Ray, Santiago Sierra, David Shrigley, Jamie Shovlin, Andreas Slominski, Oscar Tuazon, Gavin Turk, and Douglas White.

The exhibition is supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England

Press Releases

  • Curators' Series #5. Bouvard and Pécuchet's Compendious Quest for Beauty - David Roberts Art Foundation Fitzrovia
    April 04, 2012
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