Mini Exhibition Review: “Flesh” at York Art Gallery

Ok, so yes this has absolutely nothing to do with Scandinavian art, unless you consider York’s Viking history, but that’s just a roundabout and convoluted way of justifying the inclusion of a mini-review on an exhibition to do with Flesh currently on show at York Art Gallery. I’m including this here as it is something I wrote just for fun, and thought why not?!

It is the visually arresting “Green Tilework in Live Flesh” by Adriana Varejão which first captures your attention. A clinical green tiled surface has been torn apart, from which human entrails pour forth; spilling out into the space in front of you. You can’t help but look; finding it both disturbing yet intriguing.

Adriana Varejã0: Green Tilework in Live Flesh. 

This work commands the first room of the new and daring Flesh exhibition at York Art Gallery. The latter, an exploration of the many ways in which artists have dealt with the concept of “flesh”. Alongside Varejão’s piece, we are confronted by the pain inflicted upon human flesh, such as in Bernardo Cavallino’s “St Agatha”, whose breasts were cut off as punishment for refusing the advances of a Roman governor. Yet in Gina Pane’s “Azione Sentimentale” we are introduced to a modern visualisation of pain. Here, the artist, a member of the 1970s French Art Corperel, or Body Art Movement, presents us with a photographic documentation of her piercing her arm with thorns, cutting the palm of her hand with a razor, before presenting herself to her audience, in imitation of a Christian martyr.

Bernardo Cavallino: St Agatha.

Flesh makes us question the human form. In the many images of the female body, as seen in the works of Rubens and Jen Davis’ “Untitled No.26”, there is no concealing the curves and cellulite, and stretch marks. Furthermore, John Coplans abstract representation of flesh, in “Frieze, No.6, Two Panels”, introduces a nude male form relatable to the ‘everyman’. It is a refreshing sight! For many we hide our flesh, conceal it from the world, it is what makes us, us; creating a physical divide between our bodies and those of others. The display of ‘Anatomies’, in images of tattoos, or paintings of women undergoing surgical augmentation, removes this barrier entirely. There is nothing hidden from sight, we are instead forced to address our own identity.

Director and producer Steve McQueen, whose works include “12 Years a Slave”, is represented in the final room, with his short film “Bear”. It is the contortions of the flesh as seen in the sparring bodies of two naked men, one of which is the artist himself, which dominates the space. McQueen challenges and confronts the conventions of race, homoeroticism and violence. This exhibition as a whole confronts what is deemed controversial and risqué. It breaks down these barriers enabling us, for once, to view “flesh” in its many guises.

The exhibition is on at York Art Gallery until 19 March 2017.

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