29 September 2010

Decadence Now! Visions of Excess in Gallery Rudolfinum, Prague

Curator: Otto M. Urban

Decadence is a highly relevant subject in contemporary culture, or rather, one which is relevant once more. The apocalyptic sense of ruin and crisis within our civilisation has inspired a heightened interest in the dark side of both the human soul and of the world as such. From the 1970s onwards, one may observe a continuous attempt to address archetypal decadent themes in a wide range of artists, among them Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Nobuyoshi Araki, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Damien Hirst, Zhang Peng, Keith Haring, Andres Serrano, Ivan Pinkava, JiřiÅL Černický, Gilbert & George, Gottfried Helnwein, Josef Bolf, Jürgen Klauke and others. In this respect there is also a visible increase of interest on the part of both scholars and the general public. Exhibitions presenting works of decadent art generate an enthusiastic response as well as provoking scandal. However, they invariably open further debate on many key themes such as alienation, repugnance, beauty, hallucination, death, pornography, violence, drugs, disease, or madness, questions which inform and underline numerous issues in contemporary culture and society.
It also becomes evident that issues which are seemingly obsolete and irrelevant,
exemplified by censorship (both internal and external), have once again come to the fore in
the context of new political correctness. Decadent art is subversive and insurrectionary;
instead of indifference it demands that the viewer articulate a clear stance. In this sense,
decadence is radical, being extreme as well as provocative. Alienation, an apparent sense of
detachment or a depersonalized voyeurism, also represent a clearly articulated decadent
stance towards society.
The subject is divided into five basic sections, tracing a sort of imaginary journey of a
contemporary artist – Excess of the Self: Pain, Excess of the Body: Sex, Excess of Beauty: Pop,
Excess of the Mind: Madness, Excess of Life: Death. It winds through the labyrinth of crucial
questions connected to the very essence of our existence. However, it chooses to partake
of a route whose meaning is often elusive, a journey which is no less tempting for being
dangerous. It is a quest which finds images hitherto unseen, re-opening time and again the
eternal debate of the very meaning and raison d'être of art. Sexuality and anguish represent
two of the main themes of contemporary decadence, hereby in fact co-defining it in
retrospect. Though often interconnected with other issues, these themes nevertheless
always derive from a radical stance on the part of an artist.