This Valentines Day, S|2 London
presents House of the Sleeping Beauties, an exhibition of thought-provoking works which touch upon the concepts of the erotic, the body, surrealism, performance, and theatricality in art from the nineteenth century to the present day.
Occupying the entire gallery, the show brings together an eclectic host of artists for the very first time, placing them in an egalitarian dialogue with one another; from Marcel Duchamp, whose most famous work Fountain propelled him to international fame in 1917 and rendered him a figure of momentous art historical importance, to contemporary artists Issy Wood, whose work was recently shown in Virginia Woolf, An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings at Tate St Ives and The Fitzwilliam Museum, and Diane Kotila, whose works were discovered by S2 on Instagram (@letterofresignation), but have never before been exhibited publicly. The show also draws on pioneering artists of the sixties and seventies, with works by Natalia LL and Renate Bertlmann the latter of whom was the subject of S|2s gallery programme inauguration in 2017, and who has since gained international recognition; she will represent Austria in the forthcoming Venice Biennale.
House of the Sleeping Beauties features works from twenty-eight artists in a range of media, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photography and prints. The works are linked by a thread of suggestive eroticism, bound within an all-encompassing dreamlike haze. Each work is immersed in a dusky-blue gallery, teasingly obscured by midnight blue translucent curtain partitions, so that what might ordinarily be tangible is just beyond full comprehension like remembering a dream.
From the moment the visitor first enters the gallery, they are confronted with Thomas Woolners nude statuette Puck (1865) the merry wanderer of the night, immediately igniting the association of A Midsummer Nights Dream. A member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, the group drew heavily on Shakespeare, basing many of their works on the fantastical characters and incidents from his plays. The oldest work in the exhibition, Puck is the first key to unlocking the games of fantasy, love and dreams held within the gallery, just as he does in Shakespeares most beguiling comedy.
From there the dreamlike obscurity continues to saturate the space, with purposefully hung partitions guiding the visitors eye from artwork to artwork. Striking pieces by Kurt Seligmann reflect the mystical and frightening visions of his subconscious, and hang in dialogue with works by John Tweddle, whose impressions of his father spill onto the canvas in rough-edged brushstrokes, with a dark and hellish complexity. House of the Sleeping Beauties also showcases a selection of photographs by ULAY whose work straddles the intersection of photography, performance and body art. Among those presented is White Mask (1973/2016), the product of a long-term collaboration with Marina Abramović who, together, focus on pushing the physical limitations of the mind and body.
House of the Sleeping Beauties is accompanied by a reprint of Yasunari Kawabatas provocative 1961 novella of the same name. Suffused with a melancholic lyricism and a preoccupation with death, Kawabata tells the tale of a lonely man, Yoshio Eguchi, who keeps returning to the House of the Sleeping Beauties - where men pay to sleep beside young virgins - as his dreams subsume his reality. Intertwining themes of life and death, sex and desire, and fantasy and reality, Eguchi searches to understand his past through memories prompted by the presence of the sleeping woman, before accepting his eventual death. The reimagined cover is pertinently emblazoned with Joseph Cornells exquisitely disturbing dreamscape, an unexpected interlacing of structural formations interrupted by a surreal stream of flies.
As in Kawabatas story, the works presented at S|2 together allude to a convergence of many dreams or perhaps, more simply, to being caught in an endless alternate universe. Diverse in both geographical and temporal terms, the artworks in this provocative exhibition exist in a state of open-endedness, coaxing discreet visual connections at all times, bleeding from the corporeal reality to the unconscious dream-state.
The exhibition includes: Billy Apple, Sue Barnes, Renate Bertlmann, Jack Bilbo, Flávio de Carvalho, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Lili Dujourie, Rose English, Wally Hedrick, Běla Kolářová, Diane Kotila, Friedl Kubelka, Katalin Ladik, Sherrie Levine, Natalia LL, Pierre Molinier, Tony Morgan, Walter Pfeiffer, Francis Picabia, Kurt Seligmann, Andrew Sherwood, Penny Slinger, John Tweddle, ULAY, Keith Vaughan, Issy Wood and Thomas Woolner.