Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fever, confusion… followed by hallucinations.
Locking himself in a rented room, he falls into a delirious state. After a few days he ventures out. Again, he feels “rapid palpitations”. This is how Stendhal (1783-1842), a French romantic and precursor of realism in literature, describes in his diaries from 1817 the conditions that he suffered after arriving in Florence. However, these symptoms were not the result of a hidden mental illness, but the writer’s extreme sensitivity to the surrounding beauty of Italian art and architecture. Over 170 years later, it turned out that Stendhal’s reaction, namely his morbid excitement of Florence’s charm, was not that exceptional. In 1982, Stendhal’s syndrome, also known as Florence syndrome, became officially recognized as a disease.
In regards to the symptoms of the syndrome, you can ask yourself – today, in these times of excess material kitsch and times of manipulation and hybridization of information which silences our sensitivity and empathy, are we still able to stop and feel moved at the sight of beauty? Do we follow the thought process of the ancient Greeks and connect beauty with the idea of the good? Are we still able to talk about beauty in terms of the absolute?
Or maybe this whole over-triggering results in confusion and problems deciphering contexts, and is the reason that we no longer distinguish beauty, feeling more inclined towards its inner error, ugliness – understood here as a lady full of sarcasm, grotesque but also villainous. This vileness is supported by the modern art of dialectics, seducing her audience with abbreviations and populist slogans, enabling the neat justification of actions which segregate, exclude, and destruct us – both aesthetically and ethically. Beauty itself is feeling healthy and natural as ever, lasting regardless of our weaknesses and ignorance. But does it still seduce us? Is it still able?
Florentine Syndrome, or the state of being excessively moved by beauty, is also the title of the first exhibition of Mexican artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre to take place in Poland. Artistically, the brothers strategically analyze both the formal and mental powers of beauty and ugliness, through which both concepts become a metaphor for the eternal struggle between good and evil. Tactically, however, their goal is to build a narrative and scenery within the exhibition to maximally engage the viewer. In his book On Ugliness, Umberto Eco explains the mechanism of human sensitivity through these terms. The synonyms of beauty: wonderful, harmonious, delicate, graceful are the expressions of uninvolved judgment, while those of ugliness such as grotesque, irregular, clumsy, filthy, etc. usually evoke a reaction of disgust, if not deep repulsion. Therefore, upon entering the universe of de la Torre brothers, we are immediately exposed to the experience of hyper-culture, no thanks to the ecstatic and zealous affectation of beauty, but contrarily – through disharmony, distortion, exaggeration, and even ugliness. We are overwhelmed by the absurdity of reality, finding it hard to catch our collective breath. There is no peace.
Operating between their country of origin and the United States over a 30-year period in their artist practice, they presented their work in various museums and art galleries. The de la Torre brothers are known for addressing issues of nationalism, migration, racism, and cultural perception. They coerce the viewer, leading us into a trap, making us watch whether we want to or not. They urge us to face not only the formal, but also the thematic area of their work; eventually leading us into our own “palpitations”, as we are overwhelmed by emotions – we leave feeling either thrilled or disgusted by the reflections of the world in which we exist. Through the use of a great number of multi-layered forms, various media, such as glass, large-format lenticular prints, set design elements, and symbolic references, where pop culture permeates baroque aesthetics and inspirations from pre-Columbian, totem art stand shoulder to shoulder with modern material culture, they build a peculiar museum plan, on the border between high art and kitsch. Nothing is left sacred; no borders left unpenetrated.
In his book, Red and Black, Stendhal formulated the theory of a mirror novel, “… a novel is a mirror carried along the high road. At one moment it reflects to your vision of the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet.” For de la Torres brothers, the mirror is the eyes of the viewer, who in turn creates the image of reality stripped of delusions, but not deprived of glitz and artificiality; real, brutal. Ugly and ultimately beautiful.
curators: Dominika Drozdowska, John Moran
cooperation: Gent Glas
Brothers Einar and Jamex de la Torre were born in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1964, 1960. In a sudden family move, the brothers moved to Dana Point, California in 1972. They both attended Long Beach State University, Jamex got a BFA in Sculpture in 1983. Currently the brothers live and work on both sides of the border: The Guadalupe Valley in Baja California and San Diego. The complexities of the emigrational experience, with its ensuing biculturalism, as well as their life on both sides of border explain a great deal of were brother’s work comes from.
The brothers have been collaborating in earnest since the mid-nineties; they have developed their signature style mix media work with blown glass sculpture and installation art. Their pieces represent a multifaceted view of life that reflects a complex and humorous aesthetic that could be called baroque. Their approach is additive, constantly layering material and meaning. Their influences range from Catholic iconography to German expressionism while also paying homage to Mexican vernacular arts and pre-Columbian art. In recent years, they have been experimenting with lenticular printing and creating photomural installations. They have won the USA Artists Fellowship award, the San Diego Foundation Grant Award, The San Diego Art Prize, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award. They have had 16 solo museum exhibitions including the National Glass Centre Museum in England, the Glazhuiz in Belgium, the Mesa Arts Center Museum, The Chrysler Museum of Art and the Tucson Museum of Art.