We are the grotesque
The expression – as a term – appeared around 1500, deriving from the Italian word grotta (cave) which was used to refer to the sensational discovery of murals in the Domus Aurea of the Roman Emperor Nero. The newfound strange motives quickly set the fashion at the palaces of the religious and lay dignitaries. The effects of grotesque were carried around by fine arts. – writes Tamás Tarján. And behold, historicity is this important for mankind. No genre or artwork can exist without the study of its descent, antedescent, or predecessors. (Indeed, it cannot). So, the pre-life and afterlife of the grotesque bears its own determination. Since it became from a mere ornamentation the phenomenon as it is known today, namely ”By illustrating the comic quality of the grotesque, which is distorted, ugly, irregular, it uses the tools of analysis to find the answers and consequences behind this ugliness, distortedness.” Here is the definition, also penned by Tamás Tarján. The ”fine arts prehistory” of the grotesque reaches back as far as the playful mimus – the depictions of ancient Greek pottery (although who knows what the real purpose was behind the Venus of Willendorf?) In a word, the ugly, the distorted, the miserable figures -and phenomena- depicted in a beautiful, aesthetic manner- with a precision humanly conceivable – can be one cornerstone of grotesque expression. Like the grandfather with a disfigured nose by Ghirlandaio who cuddles his grandchild or the old lecher by Lucas Cranach fondling a young girl: both are rendered in an utmost pictorial quality, fulfilling every requirement demanded by the Guild. (Not to mention Bosch). But if we want to refer to the great grotesque artists of the 19th and 20th century (Lautrec, Ensor, Dali, Magritte or Nolde) they also found their own artistic direction in the depiction of grotesque situations, shapes and figures. Of course, the fact that caricaturistic depictions have been known since Leonardo, plus the nature of grotesque‘s relationship with caricature itself can be confusing for the audience. And what distinguishes these two genres from each other anyway? I would rather not go into analyzing this, but it is interesting to consider: what is the fine line that separates Daumier or Ferenc Sajdik, László Réber or János Major from each other or from the genre of grotesque itself? Modernism gave lots and lots of ways of expression into the hands of the artist, and the story and history, the changes in thinking and politics of the past couple of decades provided great material for mockery. ”The key to modernity is irony” – claims Ken Wilber. Irony is more forgiving, satire is sharper (”Difficile est saturam non scriebere”, it is hard not to write satire, says Juvenalis), the grotesque is more evil, more exposing. The material of this year’s Grotesque Fine Arts Competition offers perhaps the richest selection for those who are interested in the genre, to answer the above questions. From small prints to panel paintings, from grungy ways of expression to works with almost cheekily ambiguous (or clear) meanings, from sculptures to assemblages, from statues to objects – every stylistic and technical possibility is exploited. The kinetic, nay mobile toolset (we could even say genre) is also part of this monumental exhibition. Thanks to the almost infinite number of possible solutions this exhibition can turn into a huge intellectual market – or ”brain bar”- from where we can sample not only from the works of artists close to our hearts, but from attitudes, possibilities and answers to those questions we are dealing with. How to approach politics, new ideas, the everyday ideas of political correctness, or those ideas wanting to eliminate the former? The answers of these artists, the possible solutions they rallied, the unencumbered and full disclosure – all that can make every question and answer acceptable. It is for us to decide what we agree with, and what disturbs us. This is the beauty of the Grotesque. Of the genre and this exhibition as well.