Apocalypse: Beauty & Horror in Contemporary Art
In September 2000 I went to see Apocalypse: Beauty & Horror in Contemporary Art at the Royal Academy. I thought it could be re-named an Exhibition of Blood as blood is everywhere: ranging from bloody rituals to rotting carcases, the artists using every opportunity to give offence.
Stuart Brisley who uses human excrement in his work justifies this by saying, “By hiding our waste, we’re hiding who we really are”.
The German artist Herman Nitsch stages elaborate rituals lasting days in which animals are cut to pieces and naked performers writhe in their blood and entrails. Besides all this, Tracy Emin’s “ Unmade Bed “ seems almost tame in comparison!
Norman Rosenthal, the Exhibitions Secretary of the Royal Academy and joint curator of the exhibition says that there is nothing new in this as artists have always been confronting war. Such as Rembrandt’s close look at aged skin and Goya’s drawings The Disasters of War, which he drew from life.
Particularly harrowing is Maurizio Caltelan’s sculpture of Pope John Paul II falling to the ground dead having been struck by what looks like a huge rock but what is in fact a meteorite.
There is a disturbing huge life-size tableaux exhibited in glass cases showing the cruelty of the concentration camps which has said to have offended many Germans.
Then there is the strange abstract of Wolfgang Tillman (2000’s favourite to win the Turner Prize) created from the frayed crotch of a pair of red denim shorts.
Gregory Schneider has constructed a derelict house where the first gallery should be and you have to squeeze through a low opening in a partition wall to get inside: impossible for anyone wheelchair-bound, disabled, overweight or less agile; only the fittest and slimmest can enter.
Belgian Luc Tynan shows his washed-out close-ups of pillows and wee tributes to his granary’s embroidery.
Orgiastic sex is performed by a naked, sweaty couple who first beat each other to pulp (Chris Cunningham’s exhibit).
‘Hell! Is said to be Jake and Dino Chapman’s masterpiece, the ‘baddies’ being toy soldiers dressed as Nazis whilst the ‘goodies’ are naked mutants which have been hanged, raped or castrated;
Mike Kelly from Los Angeles shows toys made of excrement.
One critic called the exhibition “a horror show belonging in a seaside waxworks”.