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Would you put willies on your sitting room wall? 9 February, 2010

Posted by celiastuartmenteth in Celia's blog.
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Image credit: Robert Gober, Male and Female Genital wallpaper, 1989

Last weekend saw the opening of a new wallpaper exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester: ‘Walls are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture’ (ends 3rd May).

However, this is no ordinary wallpaper and if you think you are in for cheery florals and regal flocks, think again.  Instead are a series of hard-hitting, controversial wallpapers made by over 30 artists, including Andy Warhol, Damian Hirst.

‘Kitsch ideas of home decoration’, say the Whitworth, ‘are turned upside down as artists subvert the stereotypes of wallpaper to hit home messages about warfare, racism, cultural conflicts and gender’.

From a distance, Robert Gober’s submission looks likes a series of white drawings against a black background.  It is only on closer inspection that you realise these drawings are, in fact, hundreds of penises, vaginas and bums.

Image credit: Abigail Lane, Bloody Wallpaper, 1995

Abigail Lane’s work is altogether more sinister.  At first glance it appears to be a kind of Pollock-esque array of red paint splashes on a white ground.  As you approach, your heart sinks as you realise you have walked into a murder scene.  Red paint splashes transform themselves into gory blood splatters and handprints.

‘It works well as a pattern repeat’, says Christine Woods, the curator. ‘My hunch is that if were made commercially available, it would find a substantial niche market. Which personally, I find quite terrifying’.

I think most of the world finds that terrifying.

Whatever you think of the exhibition, it does make you think about the role of wall coverings and how we view it in our homes.  I like the idea that for once, wallpaper is not just the backdrop to something, but the main event itself.

If you have seen the exhibition, we would love to hear your views. Love it or hate it, we want to know!



1. Bev - 10 February, 2010

Would look nicer on the bedroom wall!!!

2. Katrien Riks - 10 February, 2010

Willies on a wall…..

Do I like this? No, I don’t. Why not? hmmm… that’s a difficult question, but an important one.

With saying that I don’t like it, I’m not saying it is bad or that I don’t approve, I’m just expressing my personal esthetic judgement.

To me it comes across as a bit infantile, trying to shock with crudely drawn images of genitalia. I’m guessing that that is exactly what the artist is trying to convey, but I’m not convinced. And I don’t think this wallpaper design is meant for decoration purposes, but as a “work of art” saying something about something or the other.

The thing is, I do like the wallpaper done by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Couple Divan, which show 4 different scenes of couples having a go at it! What is the difference?

Firstly, the design was made with the purpose of decorating a room, to enhance, give a certain atmosphere and add a bit of fun. Secondly, therefore the images are designed in such a way that the first thing you recognise is the traditional look of a toile de Jouy. This immediatly causes to give a certain atmosphere: comfortable, French, decorative. Then, on a second look, you see the different scenes of a man and woman making love, with all the bits on display. This comes across then as funny, erotic and even elegant, because of the connotations this style of design has. To me this seems to work.

Does this mean that for that reason, sexual images are esthetically more pleasing, even more erotic, when disguised, hidden, or softened by the use of old fashioned imagery, elegant clothes and postures, combined with a certain amount of innocence (I’m thinking of the pin ups of the 40’s and 50’s here )?

My guess is that that, at least, is my reason for preferring it this way. I just like beautiful things, and crudely drawn genitals are in my view not beautiful, just crude.

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