Old Beauty is the New Beauty

In an effort to make this site more cohesive, we are going begin centering our posts around themes (or so the mass emails have indicated up to this moment).  So here I go tackling “New Beauty.”

James Franco.


…but seriously

Thinking about conceptualizing anything “new” implies that there is an old standard that is no longer appropriate.  The concept of beauty is one of those  that seems to have consistently avoided being rigidly defined.  However  in art, for hundreds of years was, beauty was defined by the standards of the ruling governments, religious entities, etc.  It’s only in the last hundred years or so, thanks to the “success” various avant garde movements ( I won’t name names, but you know who you are), that we have begun to redefine or undefine the idea of beauty in art.

In various efforts to break from the past,  the avant garde movements in the last century–in all of their deviant, seditious and sometimes offensive approaches–finally succeeded in annihilating tradition and art historical authority in the visual arts.  In short, the result is our post-genre, post-movement, post-art historical narrative  state of the arts.   In our increasingly pluralistic visual culture,  most contemporary art is not concerned with beauty.  Is beauty irrelevant? We could argue this point forever, I’m sure,  but I think we can all agree that “New Beauty” is something radically subjective.

When I think about how I experience beauty when I’m looking at art, I can generally put these experiences into one of two categories: luxurious, opulent, resplendent beauty or heartbreaking, fragile, nostalgic beauty.   The first category of  experience I relish because, as I’ve said in the past, the experience of art is for me probably the only opportunity I have to give myself over completely to aesthetic indulgence.   I want to dive in and wrap myself up in Petah Coyne’s decadent installations. Yves Klein monochromes make me melt.


Petah Coyne, “Untitled 1234 (Tom’s Twin,” 2007-8, Mixed Media.  Courtesy of Galerie Lelong.

The second category includes Rebecca Morales’s quiet, contemplative pastels, Jon Bobby Benjamin’s stunning miniature paper sculptures, and some works on paper by Kiki Smith.  These are the kind of experiences with beauty that almost make you cry–because they are executed with so much care and attention, because you could never do it yourself, or because they makes you miss something lost.  For me there is almost always a powerful sense of nostalgia associated with paper.


Rebecca Morales, “Tamara’s Cues,” 2004, Gouache and watercolor on vellum. Courtesy of Bravinlee Programs.


Jon Bobby Benjamin, “Turn on the Bright Lights, I wanna See My Soul,” 2009, Cardboard, ink, acrylic and mixed media.

Analyzing beauty is no easy task.  I leave it to my man Baudelaire to bring it home:

“Ah! Must we suffer eternally or else eternally flee the beautiful? Nature, sorceress without mercy, ever victorious rival, let me be! Stop tempting my desires and my pride! Studying the beautiful is a duel in which the artist shrieks with fright before being defeated.”  -Charles Baudelaire, the Artist’s Confiteor


5 Responses to Old Beauty is the New Beauty

  1. Nicole Louie says:

    And then you got Dave Hickey from the 90’s spouting bullshit and twisting things around: “As Baudelaire says, ‘the beautiful is always strange,’ by which he means, of course, that it is always strangely familiar” assuming that there’s a universal TASTE for “beauty” shared by all.

    The topic of beauty is just ridiculous to me because it can immediately imply such a neo-traditionalist stance. Do we really have to blog about this?

  2. rachel says:

    great post, KK

    Nicole, you can blog about anti new beauty.

  3. Nathan M. says:

    Great post, I really enjoy the works that you selected.

    Dave Hickey has written a ton on beauty and its effects and place in contemporary art. There is a really great catalog from the Hirshhorn exhibit “Beauty” in which Hickey and Olga Viso wrote really strong essays. You can borrow if you like, though I am not sure I know you so you could get it through Rachel.

    Again great post.

  4. Kelly Kapowski says:

    Thanks Nathan! I love Dave Hickey–and that show sounds really great. Thanks so much for offering to lend the catalogue. I don’t think we know each other, are you in DC? I’m in NY…don’t know if Rachel feels like being a courier–maybe I can find the catalogue online? We’ll be in touch. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. The style of writing is quite familiar to me. Have you written guest posts for other bloggers?

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