On Beauty Curatorial statement by Wu Hung

In 1933, Salvador Dali wrote "Beauty shall be edible or nothing." Such iconoclastic statements about Beauty cluttered the art world at the time, demanding either a complete dismissal or a reaffirmation of this concept in art and aesthetics. In fact, throughout the 20th century, it was frequently argued that modern aesthetics were based on the rejection of the beautiful, and that avant-garde art derived its vitality from divorcing itself from the Beauty principle.

Since the 1990s, Beauty has resurfaced with force as the subject of an aesthetic debate. Its previous negation has been revoked by critics of the art establishment and advocates of feminism, post-modernism, and multi-culturalism. Beauty's relationship with art - not only High Art but also popular and commercial art - has been re-examined. An ongoing discussion of Beauty's significance for different cultures is further freeing the concept from a western philosophical tradition and connecting it to a burgeoning international contemporary art.

The latest outcome of the so-called "return of beauty", is this exhibition and related activities, which aim to elevate the discussion to a new level. Organized by the House of World Cultures, Berlin, it features 21 artists from 11 countries and includes works of different mediums, not only painting and sculpture but also photography, installation, multi-media art, and film. The exhibition can thus explore Beauty's multifaceted role in today's art on a global scale. Instead of typifying certain universal standards of Beauty or exemplifying large cultural artistic traditions, the selected works constitute an intense dialogue about how individual artists with different cultural and artistic backgrounds re-imagine and re-represent Beauty. Unfolding around concepts such as the body, mythology, technology, trauma and death, transcendence, and the public space, this dialogue confronts the established notion of Beauty and inspires the audience to reflect upon the relationship between Beauty and artistic creation today.

The exhibition is the centrepiece of a larger project, consisting of an international conference, four thematic projects, performances including a dance programme, an internet project, and an education programme. Together, these activities offer rich materials and perspectives through which to rethink the meaning of Beauty in contemporary art and society.

Participating artists include:

Matthew Barney, Samta Benyahia, Heri Dono, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Jens Haaning, Katarzyna Kozyra, Michael Lin, Liu Dan, Liu Zheng, Mariko Mori, Shirin Neshat, Nam June Paik, Qin Yufen, Ravinder Reddy, Rong Rong & Inri, Cindy Sherman, Shi Chong, Wang Gongxin & Lin Tianmiao, Zhu Jinshi, Zhuang Hui.

The exhibition includes four commissioned site-specific works by:

Samta Benyahia, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Michael Lin, Qin Yufen, Zhu Jinshi.