The concept of ugliness, like beauty, is relative, not only in different cultures but also in time.
What was considered ugly or horrible in the past, it’s been often widely re-evaluated by contemporaries, just like contemporaries are often unable to appreciate daring proposals for the future from avant-garde artists and designers.
But the “ugly” is also a social phenomenon: since forever “high” classes considered ridiculous or unpleasant the “low” classes taste, purely for economic reasons, conceiving the elegance based on price.
Today is a daily experience detecting the roughness of the “new rich”, which goes beyond all bounds of good taste in order to show off their wealth.
It come natural now to talk about Kitsch aesthetics. The word’s etymology dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, from the American term “sketch”, which indicate the vulgar junk that American tourists were buying around Europe.
Today the dominant culture recognizes as kitsch things like garden gnomes, Las Vegas casinos, votive icons or still the celebratory art of the twentieth century dictatorships.
And those gratified by kitsch believes to be enjoying an high-quality experience. Clement Greenberg stated that “the kitsch imitates the effect of imitation” thus underlining the reactions that a work must cause, rather than the processes that led to the creation, therefore the kitsch, has as its ultimate goal the consumers emotional reaction.
A second definition, albeit indirect, emerges from Arthur Schopenhauer’s comparison between sublime and attractive (or interesting): “The feeling of the sublime arises from the fact that something decidedly hostile to the will, becomes the object of pure contemplation (…) the attractive, on the contrary, makes the viewer descend from the pure contemplation, essential to comprehend beauty, seducing his will with objects that immediately flatter, so that the viewer no longer remains pure subject of knowing, but becomes subject of willing, needy and dependent. “[A. Schopenahuer, The World as Will and Representation, 1819.]
By now, many of the works previously considered kitsch are not only exhibited in museums, but also sold to refined collectors. This demonstrates how yesterday’s ugliness becomes today’s beauty; after all high culture has often recovered folk art products. This kind of recovery is detectable in the Camp taste: a form of sensibility that translates the frivolous in serious and vice versa. Camp was born as a sign of recognition of an intellectual elite, so sure of his own refined taste to decide the redemption of yesterday’s bad taste, based on the love for the unnatural and excessive.
Indeed the camp is measured by the artificiality and stylization degree, and is defined as the ability to look at the others style. Camp is also the experience of the kitsch for those who are aware that what they sees is kitsch. A sort of contemporary-mass culture dandyism, the fulfillment of which comes through the experience of the most coarse and common pleasures in the mass arts: the ultimate camp statement is “It ‘s nice because it’s horrible …” [Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp, 1964].
The camp canon is erratic and time can enhance what today seems repugnant just because it’s too close to us. In this sense, camp turns yesterday’s ugly into an object of aesthetic pleasure – creating an ambiguity where it’s not clear whether the ugly has been redeemed as beautiful or beauty is reduced to ugliness.
However it’s essential to specify that not all the ugly (past and present) can be seen as camp: It becomes that only when the excess is innocent and not calculated. So camp can’t be intentional, it’s based on the candor with which the artifice is realized.
In the fashion system, a champion of the ugliness redemption is certainly Miuccia Prada, who throughout her whole career imposed the “Ugly Chic” style, where the impeccability canons are subverted by fascinating and daring combinations and various material experimentations.
“If I have done anything, it is to make the ugly appealing. In fact most of my work is concerned with destroying – or at least deconstructing – conventional ideas of beauty, of the generic appeal of the beautiful, glamorous, bourgeois woman. Fashion fosters clichés of beauty, but I want to tear them apart. An important aspect of my work is the exploring what beauty means today.” [Miuccia Prada, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible conversation”, 2012, MET Museum].
Yesterday’s ugly and unacceptable can become what will be accepted tomorrow, and help, if well contextualized, to the beauty of the whole spectrum.
Diabulus in Musica: Bach, Mozart; Listz; Puccini, Bernstein, Jimi Hendrix
Victor Fleming: The Wizard of Oz
Ed Wood: Bride of the Monster, Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait, Plan 9 form Outer Space
Kuchar Brothers: Ascension of the Demonoids, Born of the Wind, Confessions of Babette, Corruption of the Damned, Sins of the Fleshapoids, Thunder Crack, The Secret of Wendel Samson
John Waters: Mondo Trasho, Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos, Polyester, Female Trouble, Hairspray, Desperate Living, Cry Baby, Cecil B. Demented
George Lucas: Star Wars trilogy (ep. IV, V, VI)
Jim Sharman: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Tim Burton: Edward Scissor Hands, Beetle Juice
Baz Lhurman: Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Great Gatsby
Hieronymus Bosch, Carlo Crivelli, Aubrey Beardsley, Ertè, Antoni Gaudì, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Shinro Ohtake, David Lachapelle, Paul McCarthy, Marina Abramovic, Cindy Sherman, Francesco Vezzoli
Arthur Schopenhauer, Clement Greenberg, Herman Broch, Dwight MacDonald, Marcel Proust, Susan Sontag, Andy Warhol, Umberto Eco
The Blitz Club, Divine, John Waters, Carmen Miranda, Liberace, Club Kids, The Addams Family, Meahdam &Kirchoff, Miuccia Prada
1. John Waters Poster by Sarah Hedlund
2. Prada sunglasses (prada.com)
3. total look Rochas Fall Winter 2014 (rochas.com)
4. total look Michael Van der Ham Fall Winter 2014 (michaelvanderham.com)
5. Ashish pink sequinned long dress
6. Nicholas Kirkwood decolletes (nicholaskirkwood.com)
7. Fos “Spinae” vase
8. Globe Trotter special edition Voyage 18” trolley case
9. total look Meadham & Kirchhoff Fall Winter 2014 (meadhamkirchhoff.com)
10. Rochas yellow gloves (rochas.com)
11. Scott Scheidly’s Obama pink portrait
12. Ek Thongprasert de poisson necklace (ekthongprasert.be)
13. total look Prada Fall Winter 2014 (prada.com)
14. “English Breakfast” by Genesis Breyer P. Orridge (genesisbreyerporridge.com)
15. total look Rodarte Fall Winter 2014 (rodarte.net)
16. Olympia Le Tan pochette (olympialetan.com)
17. Carven printed skirt (carven.com)
18. Marni pink sandals (marni.com)
19. Marni pink pochette (marni.com)
1. Rochas green wrap style coat (rochas.com)
2. “Moderna Museet” by Niki de Saint Phalle (nikidesaintphalle.com)
3. total look Roksanda Fall Winter 2014
4. Paula Cademartori pochette (paulacademartori.com)
5. Federica Moretti frida bow baseball Hat (federicamorettihandmade.com)
6. House of Holland sunglasses (houseofholland.co.uk)
7. Valentino graphic A-line dress (valentino.com)
8. total look Marni Fall Winter 2014 (marni.com)
9. Saint Laurent glittered mary janes (ysl.com)
10. Still from John Waters “Pink Flamingos” movie
11. Roger Vivier pumps
12. Jason Evans, Deathburger, Hanatsubaki, 2011 (jasonevans.info)
13. total look Carven Fall Winter 2014 (carven.com)
14. Dries Van Noten trousers (driesvannoten.be)
15. “Lulu shoes” by Luciana Martinez de la Rosa
16. Marni necklace (marni.com)
17. Guido Palau lobster illustration for “Schiaparelli and Prada: impossible conversation” exhibition
1. Francesco Vezzoli “Sacrilegio”
2. Rochas blouse (rochas.com)
3. total look Rodarte Fall Winter 2014 (rodarte.net)
4. Giorgio Armani shoulder bag (armani.com)
5. total look Rochas Fall Winter 2014 (rochas.com)
6. total look Meadham & Kirchoff Fall Winter 2014 (meadhamkirchhoff.com)
7. Charlott fur waistcoat
8. Dries Van Noten pochette (driesvannoten.be)
9. Anna-Karin Karlsson sunglasses (annakarinkarlsson.com)
10. Cindy Sherman photo form the clown serie (cindysherman.com)
11. Lanvin feather embellished cap (lanvin.com)
12. “Extreme Beauty in Vogue” book
13. Anya Hindmarch clutch (anyahindmarch.com)
14. Marni mini skirt (marni.com)
15. still from Victor Fleming’s “Wizard of Oz”, 1939
16. total look Prada fall Winter 2014 (prada.com)
17. Dolce&Gabbana shoes (dolcegabbana.it)
18. Hans Hollein, Austrian Travel Agency, 1976 (hollein.com)
Moodboard and text: Irene Pazzanese