The Strangeness of Beauty

Winter/Spring 2021

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art is delighted to present The Strangeness of Beauty, an online project examining the notion of aesthetics in contemporary art. Curated by Ziba Ardalan, Founder, Artistic and Executive Director of Parasol unit, the project will take place on our website and consist of a series of contributions from invited artists, writers, curators and art professionals responding to questions surrounding the phenomena of beauty and strangeness within contemporary art practice.

It is probably true to say that from the onset of their creative work, artists confront the concept of beauty and aesthetics, even though they may go against it later in their career. According to the philosopher Denis Dutton, beauty is far more than a passing thought or feeling, rather our response to it arises from deep within our mind – from our ancestral past. Within the development of contemporary art, we know that conceptualism, or the art of ideas, and its many ramifications increasingly became the overriding criteria in the work of artists during the second half of the twentieth century, and thus largely replaced the discourse on beauty. Later, political art reinforced such tendencies and beauty was relegated to being somewhat kitsch and peripheral.

The Romantic poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe, in his 1838 book Ligeia: Short Stories, explored the interconnectedness between beauty and strangeness. Describing the facial features of Ligeia, one of the story’s characters, Poe noted that ‘There is no exquisite beauty … without some strangeness in the proportion.’ Indeed, it seems that Poe believed strangeness to be an essential ingredient of beauty. Now, nearly 200 years later, amidst countless discussions about political art, racial issues and matters threatening the planet and its inhabitants, it does seem worthwhile to once more bring the relationship between strangeness and beauty to the table and open up the conversation with various thinkers. In these brief conversations, the Director/Curator takes immense interest in asking each invited guest whether strangeness and beauty have been at all relevant in their practice and will look forward to receiving their overall thoughts on the topic.

Watch out for issue 1 featuring Thomas Hirschhorn due to go live on 6 January 2021 and issue 2 featuring Jimmie Durham and Maria Thereza Alves on 13 January 2021.

Image: Cecilia Edefalk, Double White Venus with Mask, 2008. Egg tempera and oil on linen. Private collection.