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Group Show - Unnatural - Natural History - Royal West of England Academy - 14 July - 23 September 2012

At least since the 1980's and the young British artists phenomenon, artists have been organising exhibitions of their own work. In the 1990's the 'curator' was born, perhaps because of the internet and new concerns about authenticity,'exhibition organiser' became a more caring, authoritative, legitimising and less invisible role. And so 'curating' has come to also mean organising exhibitions. This has opened a door to the radical and the innovative. The positive side to this is moving away from the 'themed' exhibition to a more sympathetically organised quality of show, although in the case of this exhibition the theme is the title.

Black and White cow by Geza Szollosi

courtesy Mauger Modern

Coates and Scarry are a curatorial partnership whose latest exhibition is on show at Bristol's Royal West Academy. Quite simply, 'Unnatural - Natural History' is a peculiar mix which is resonant of victorian private collections of art.

In a way it could be said that it deliberately aims to offend middle-class tastes. But that would be too simple. Coates and Scarry have an 'international fan base' due to their blog. In this way they can perhaps be seen to 'democratize' artistic tastes. And yet, most of the work is pop-surreal and mega-kitsch; in the words of Andy Warhol, "Art is what you can get away with."

The text at the entrance to the exhibition misrepresented what was actually on exhibition, claiming that 'Unnatural - Natural History' is an 'artistic exploration of an alternative world' when in no way is this actually the case.

There are the fashionable examples of taxidermy and neon mixed with paintings of the surreal-fantasy kind; and for example, in one painting a baby rides on the back of an ostrich.

Wrest by Kate Mccguire

photograph by Tessa Angus,work courtesy of All Visual Arts

One exception to the general rule of this show was the work of Kate Mccgwire. "Stigma II", which was reminiscent of Cornelia Parker's work, is made of lead, and bird's feathers peeping out of holes in the lead. The lead suggested skin and therefore was genuinely surreal.

There is,I believe, a 'pecking order' in terms of art exhibitions of work which is more derivative than directional, and Coates and Scarry, with their followers seem to be setting about to change this. It was unnerving to walk into this exhibition, as though the ground rules had suddenly changed. It wasn't that the work was offensive in itself, just the collection as a whole, put forward as an 'alternative world', and in this sense it had a new direction.


Sarah Thompson 12.09.12