The definition of the word “ugly” is more than an aesthetic determination of whatever is the opposite of beauty. The meaning changes over time just as the meaning of beauty changes over time. Ugly in many ways is a social construct. The work in this exhibition reflects each artist’s attempt to give the viewer access to what is ugly for them.
All twelve artists in UGLY are women. One cannot escape the initial immediate meaning of ugly as describing women who do not fulfill the ideals of a stereotypical male gaze. Whether it is expressed in their work overtly or covertly, these women have experienced living in our contemporary Western culture and have in their life undoubtedly been the subject of an assessment on those grounds. The question then is, does this experience influence their perception of ugliness and their expression of it through their work?
Ugly can be something or someone unpleasant or repulsive to look at or it can involve violence. It can be something that causes disquiet or be morally repugnant such as ugly speech or behavior. It can be immoral as in something ominous or sinister. Ugly is not only about seeing but also about feeling. Ugly is fascinating. Ugly is at times repellent. Although making art is often seen as an attempt to describe and communicate a sense of beauty, understanding and assessing what ugly is can be a way of understanding beauty and inspecting ugliness can be a way of defining beauty. Determining what is ugly can be instructive.
When an artist sets out to describe ugliness, the result can take many forms because of the many possible definitions. This exhibition of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and mixed-media construction shows that what is ugly is purely personal and often political. We are living in ugly times. This is certainly true if one chooses to use the definition of ugly as morally offensive, dreadful, fearful, frightful or horrible.
A case can be made that what we consider ugly is actually, deeply, subconsciously attractive in the way that driving past a car accident requires at least a glance at the scene of horror. The work in this exhibition is often deeply attractive in this way. Ultimately though, UGLY asks the question: ugly? or is it?
Stefany Benson, Curator