Contemporary art is in some ways similar to contemporary design. Art of today embraces the idea of ‘less is more’– a trend that is also very much accepted in today’s design. If you take a tour in the hippest design stores these days, what you will see is the praise of the minimal and the underline of what is placid yet heavy. As jaded art lovers of New York where art galleries usually host a cane leaning towards the wall with a few crumpled papers next to it while a low volume record quietly clangs in their art shows, it seems distinctly astounding to see a group of enormous paintings covering the long long walls of a gallery with glitter and agony at the same time.
Recently opened Raqib Shaw exhibition, Paradise Lost, at Pace Gallery is the home of this surprising getaway to the “embroidery land” in the era of “cloudy colored” artworks. Adapting its title from John Milton’s ode to human decay with the start of Adam and Eve, this full-colored show occupies all three locations of Pace Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibition truly does justice to its title inspiration, depicting the story of “the man” in all of its decadence, rise and everything between the two.
Stories that we are familiar with such as St. Sebastian or King Solomon all return in an extremely contemporary yet undeniably ingrained technique that gloriously presents the history of humanity with its timeless dilemmas and contradictions. These works come out as totally fresh and innovative as their content mostly offers an undeniably daring erotic theatricality that only contemporary art can handle. On the other hand, the practice that the artist pursues has a craftsmanship and attention to detail as the reminiscent of the classical understanding of art-making. Animal-headed, ripped human bodies fight, attack and writhe all with strong determination and resistance similar to a Hieronymus Bosch painting or a photograph in a some sort of medieval-themed erotica.
What is even more fascinating about this exhibition and Shaw’s practice is the parallel between Shaw’s own persona and his artworks. Living in a huge sausage factory that is turned into a flower and cashmere-filled mansion in South London, Shaw fully reflects his lifestyle and perspective towards life in his works. His dandyish Baroque mannerism is as visible as it can get in photos of him wearing stripe cotton suits posing with his dog. Looking at his glitter filled, glorious odes to humanity at Pace Gallery these days, one wouldn’t wonder where all of his plaisir de vivre is coming from.