Joy in excess can tend towards the creepy. HYSTERICAL, curated by the esteemed set designer Gary Card, showcases this dichotomy in all its splendour. The exhibition opened on 18 July in the ground floor galleries of Phillips auction house, London. Transforming a neutral space into a psychedelic dreamscape, Card showcases art from the likes of Takashi Murakami, KAWS and Cindy Sherman. The works are interlinked with smiley lined paths and technicolour walls.
Card's skills span different mediums – from the intergalactic set design at the Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY S/S 19 show, to his fashion illustrations for SHOWstudio. This collaborative and multifaceted approach to creativity works to Card's advantage. The output of visual culture in the digital age shows no signs of slowing down. On top of this, we are finding more ways to archive, re-discover and reinterpret art. HYSTERICAL comprises video, sculpture, installation, painting and set design, finding common ground in works from the eighties, nineties, noughties and twenty-tens. These nuances amalgamate in Card's designs.
Murakami's cutesy, celestial paintings and George Condo's grotesque caricature are absurd and engrossing, much like Card's malformed rainbow figures which overlook the show. In Sherman's Untitled self-portrait she is dressed as a clown, a character of exaggerated human joy. This uncanny sentiment lurks on the show's walls: a grinning face is disguised with brush strokes, hibiscus flowers and poison frogs. Kenny Scharf's aptly named Evilcute spray painting concisely encapsulates this theme: a saccharine cartoon chaos. As Card puts it, 'Like finding a tarantula in a bunch of bananas these works capture something inherently sinister while appearing equally absurd and disarming.'
An elf with candy pink hair, blank eyes and an unsettling smile is present throughout the show. Named 'Smudge', the Card mascot comes in many forms: mangled sculptures, a giant leering totem, a painting on canvas and a tattoo on Card's forearm. Smudge embodies hysteria.
The hardest part of putting the show together? Card is honest: 'I think the main challenge was paying respects to the work of artists I admire while creating an experience that integrated those works into one unifying piece. In the end I almost had to forget about my reverence for the pieces. I had to remind myself a lot of the time that the artist may not be happy with how we've reinterpreted their work and some of our audience won't like it either. This show is a risk; I think that’s important.'
Tucked away in Card's fairytale cottage is SPECULUM (Eden, Paradise and Hell), a looping video triptych by art collective SMACK. Eyeballed mushroom clusters and glitching fish populate Eden, whilst men ride phallic horses in Paradise. In Hell scrotal humanoids writhe and brains fly across the landscape on drones. Viewers have an interest in fantasy – evil or good – and Card has tapped into that. Kudos.