The phrase “pretty is as pretty does” is an idiom typically used to describe a beautiful girl with a nasty disposition—she may look pretty, but it doesn’t follow that she acts pretty. Pretty Is As Pretty Does, a group exhibition organized by Phillips Director Laura Steward Heon, takes its inspiration from this phrase and features work that suffuse base, provocative content in otherworldly beauty. The artists whose works are included in this exhibition have, with exquisite care and cunning charm, made objects that glitter with unsettling appeal. In all of the works, an effervescent prettiness and sneering nastiness circle around each other, and both qualities are magnified by their combination. The works were brought together for their peculiar aesthetic dialectic. For example, in the heart of the show, ceramic objects made by Kathy Butterly share space with Tanyth Berkeley’s photographs of an albino model named Grace and other improbably beautiful women.
Butterly’s small ceramic objects, mostly tea pot-sized, have been fired as many as thirty times each to achieve rich, glowing, and totally bizarre combinations of colors, which are echoed in their highly precise and deeply weird ceramic forms. Berkeley’s models, whose unique appearances make them at once bizarre and beautiful, are dignified women, but with silly girl faces, tawdry red negligees, and legs like a pair of ice cream cones.
This kind of discordant pairing runs throughout the show, as does the use of refined craftsmanship, and precious or decorative materials, such as stained glass, silk, ceramic, and rhinestones. We see it in Marilyn Minter’s giant paintings and photographs of women’s feet; expert sour apple pedicures covered with dirt juxtapose the beautiful and the base. The bloodied skulls and sinister icebergs of Angelo Filomeno’s exquisitely embroidered silk works belie their medium. The interconnectedness of decay and rebirth are evident in Chiho Aoshima’s sumptuous anime nightmare. Judith Schaechter’s eerie illuminated stained glass follies explore the tension between sexuality, power, and vulnerability.
In addition to these works, SITE Santa Fe has commissioned Ligia Bouton to create a decorative motif that will appear throughout the galleries. She has proposed a series of ruptures of varying sizes in the walls revealing a furry pelt underneath. Rina Banerjee and David Leigh will also create new site specific commissions for the exhibition.
Pretty is as Pretty Does offers its viewers an aesthetic experience suffused by a kind of sinister charm.