Beauty And The Beast - Contemporary Art At Stourhead Landscape Gardens

By Caroline Lewis | 29 September 2006
photo of a doorway with ornate fanlights and light flooding into the dark room with a stone floor

Fiona Crisp, Pantheon. Courtesy National Trust

The National Trust, not usually one to mess around with modern art, is inviting the public to join a debate over classical versus contemporary with an exhibition at Stourhead Landscape Gardens in Wiltshire.

Beauty and the Beast (until October 29 2006) sets contemporary works by the likes of Elisabeth Frink, David Toop and Gavin Turk against the 18th century grounds of classical estate Stourhead. In doing so, it poses questions about the value of beauty and ugliness. Taking the metaphor from the fairytale that the beast is only repellant on the outside, and good inside, the exhibition provokes debate about brutish contemporary art.

“For some exponents of the classical, contemporary work is the beast, and for some contemporary fans, the classical is the beast,” says Peter Dickinson, the exhibition curator who devised the concept.

“I am always bemused by artists that reject classicism as dead, no longer relevant and elitist. I am similarly stunned by those who reject contemporary art as decadent, skilless and facile. These polarised points of view are likely to be challenged by this exhibition.”

photo of a crushed mini leaning against a tree with a man and a ladder next to it

Curator Peter Dickinson with Boo Ritson's Mini. Courtesy National Trust

Visitors can expect to find such oddities as Barbara Ash’s sculpture Eve – a stone teddy bear starkly new and clean in comparison to the estate’s classical statues – set in the graceful parkland, while the fantastical grotto is filled with a sound installation by David Toop.

Boo Ritson plonks a crumpled car down as his contribution, arguing that beauty can be found everywhere, including in the shadows and gullies of his bulldozed Mini. For his two-pennies’ worth, Ritson points out that there is “easy Beauty versus difficult beauty. Fast, ready beauty versus the kind that is slower to like.”

Garry Martin sticks an oversized, bright red thorn on an ancient gnarled tree; eak-art recreate the 18th century classical beauties The Three Graces as middle-aged women in sensible shoes.

The public are invited to offer their opinions on the works, what beauty is and whether the ugly should be rejected in an online debate at the website www.beautyandthebeast.org.uk, where more information about the artists and their work can also be found.

The in Bath is exhibiting more work by artists involved in Beauty and the Beast. Discover more about their ideas at the gallery from October 2-27.

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