TALLINN, Estonia — The Tallinn Art Hall recently hosted a cross-generational exhibition of work between two Estonian artists, Kris Lemsalu and Tiit Pääsuke, Beauty and the Beast (Tallinn, March 18 – May 1). Pääsuke (b. 1941) established himself as a figurative painter in the 1970s, whereas Lemsalu (b. 1985) is trained in ceramics (though the museum says she is much more of a “nomad” now). Kris Lemsalu is on the ascent.
Above image: Kris Lemsalu, Star, 2016; porcelain, textile, CDs, plastic mirror, foam silicone, parachute, rubber eyeballs. Photographs courtesy of Temnikova Kasela Gallery.
The exhibition shows a dialogue that exists between the mediums and the generations of the artists, often showing how the poles are closer than one may think. At times the artists imitate each other’s work. Beyond that, the museum states that they are united in subject; they often choose to work with women or animals. This dialogue is partially the work of curator Tamara Luuk, who commented on the synchronicity, stating: “And they are connected by the taxidermic quality, dramatic theatricality and significance of their work.”
Not to belabor the generational point, or to shove the different artists into a box, but there are features to each artist unique to their own upbringings. For example, according to Ari Akkermans’ review for HyperAllergic, Pääsuke’s surrealist paintings with Pop art sensibilities refused to conform to and broke away from the history of Soviet-era art. At the same time they’re of a transitional period that is hard to categorize. Lemsalu’s sculptures seem to be less of the world and often contain a healthy dose of millennial irony that makes her authentic feelings hard to grasp. These are different positions, but there’s still a lot of common ground here. This is supported by works in which the artists riff off each other. Pääsuke painted portraits of Lemsalu morphing into different forms and Lemsalu imitated an older Pääsuke work in which he painted over the work of an anonymous artist.
Akkermans extended the “beastly” metaphor, describing the show almost as if one were in the lair of some carnivore. Ari likened it to a labyrinth, or “an eviscerated body, whose limbs have been scattered throughout the different rooms.”
Beauty and the Beast is the somewhat deceiving title of a show in which two artists, separated by a generation, confront each other and engage in an open-ended conversation. Both artists attempt to eradicate an older notion of beauty and navigate its many constraints and prejudices, bringing them into contact with real-world experiences, such as horror or desire. “Beauty” and “beast” are not here a binary system of opposites but a correlation: the two words are interchangeable not only in terms of their meaning but in relation to the world at a given moment — the beautiful is sometimes terrible, and the terrible is sometimes beautiful.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art and not-quite-ceramic contemporary art? Let us know in the comments.