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Sweet Fragonard

What is it to have taste? Most people can taste, in that they are aware of the sense, but that is not the same as having taste. The cultivation of taste is a way that society uses up the excess and there was nothing as excessive as the Rococo, except the contemporary industrialised world.

In his exhibition, “The Fragonard Room” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Stieg Persson comments on excess. There is the excess of the Rococo, with its over the top images and execution. The excess of tagging, the over the top calligraphic curves of tagging letter forms that are carefully copied in gold paint by Persson from stuff on the streets of south-east Melbourne. The excess of food, the over the top coffee culture or the current fad for multi-coloured macaroons. The animals as a symbol of excess; eating like a pig or goat, breeding like rabbits, more monkeys and long haired lapdogs. The empty oyster shells, except for one with a pearl. Yet amid all of this excess there is great restraint in Persson’s art.

For me a key image is a small painting of Prada silk ribbons with the Prada tag, a symbol of luxury, woven into them and the beautiful curves of the ribbons like a cloud, an ephemeral thing of beauty. I have seen Persson’s paintings for years but they have been one or two paintings in large group exhibitions, as in Melbourne Now, and I haven’t really got them. Seeing this solo exhibition with the alternating hanging of sub-themes at Anna Schwartz Gallery it all became clear.

Where is Persson in all this appropriation? The style and taste portrayed in his paintings from the cool modern abstract play with paint, to the fiddly bits of Rocco style painting to the brushstrokes of the tags are all from somewhere else. The hand of the artist in the drawings is obscured by more tags. What is left of Persson is the flickering taste of the consumer of food and images.

Take a virtual tour of the Frick Institute’s Fragonard Room. Speaking from my synesthesia, Fragonard’s art is so sweet that it is like spun sugar that is gone almost after it touches your tongue. The current fashion for cooking and foodie culture is about the cultivation of ephemeral tastes.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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