Sinister… embroidery? To be honest, State of the Art never thought it’d use those two words together in a sentence, but that was before stumbling across the work of Italian artist Angelo Filomeno, whose new exhibition – the perhaps just a wee bit pretentiously titled The Marquis and a Bearded Dominatrix with a Cake in the Oven – is showing at Galerie Lelong in Chelsea.
Filomeno’s work – for this exhibition, at least – divides roughly between embroidery and sculpture, rendered respectively in flawless glass and silk. The sculptures are universally black, while the embroidery is created in a dramatic colour scheme – rich black and almost fluorescent gold. So far, so good. But while embroidery is usually associated with grandmothers and well-meaning country types, grandma would be seriously taken aback by the figures on display in Filomeno’s designs: his work depicts a succession of frightening insectoid figures and ghoulish skeletal nasties that look like they’ve walked out of a fantasy novel. The effect is striking, if nothing else.
This exhibition hasn’t won universal acclaim – Time Out suggested that it’s “tough to see past the sword-and-sorcery bad taste here to any serious consideration of, say, morality or ritual” – and it’s true that the most interesting thing about Filomeno’s work is the technique, rather than the subject matter. If these were paintings, for instance, they’d probably be dismissed as suitable for the cover of Dungeons & Dragons source material rather than swanky Chelsea art galleries.
Still, bad taste isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And anyway, Filomeno certainly isn’t the first artist to rely on unexpected shock value for impact. In this case, it’s the manner in which the images are being communicated that are just as striking as the images themselves; and also, the manner in which the images are displayed lends them a sense of conceptual depth that they might otherwise be lacking. They have as much to say about what your perception of what art should be (why shouldn’t embroidery be shocking?) as they do about their actual subject matter. Indeed, the former point is substantially more interesting than the latter.
It’s a reminder of just how important the choice of medium is for art – as well as being a tool for conveying meaning, it can contribute to meaning. In this case, the contrast between the inherent beauty of the materials – both the glass and silk used for this exhibition really are quite stunning – and the decay depicted makes for dramatic viewing. It may or may not be bad taste, but it’s like nothing else you’ve seen before – and that, surely, has to be worth a look.