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May 13, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Beautiful Creatures and Fantasic Fantasies

Bitches ain’t shit and they ain’t sayin’ nothing /
A hundred motherfuckers can’t tell me nothing

Probably not the words you expect to hear booming through the normally quiet, white and serene galleries of Victoria’s Adam Art Gallery. Nicki Minaj makes her debut appearance at the Adam in the form of artist Jacqueline Fraser’s large-scale installation THE MAKING OF THE CIAO MANHATTAN TAPES 2013, and sets the tone for the transformative Beautiful Creatures exhibition. (Side note: did nobody tell Nicki it’s bad form to rhyme a word with itself?)

Beautiful Creatures is an exhibition of youth, fantasy and desire. Works from Australian photographer Bill Henson’s Untitled 1998/1999/2000 series transform the top floor of the gallery into a dark, moody and mysterious setting. Henson’s portraits of lithe adolescents, unaware or unaffected by the camera’s presence, shoulders and limbs dappled by cool light as they emerge from a deep, pervasive blackness, clearly resemble the work of master painter Caravaggio. It is incredibly rewarding to feel that two artists’ practices, five hundred years apart, can speak to each other unironically.

Henson’s photographs alternate between vulnerable bare youths and empty locations, both on the verge, in a space in between. Neither day nor night, both intensely dark and luminously light, they tell the timeless tale of adolescence; of confident actions underneath overarching uncertainty, and of meaningless discontent.

She evokes similar themes, but Jacqueline Fraser defines her time and place much more assertively. This is hip-hop culture, here and
now. A series of plastic-wrapped small collages in large frames depict women in provocative poses alongside rappers and similar imagery. The Nicki Minaj issuing through the gallery comes from the centre of Fraser’s immersive 3D installation around the corner, which sees the Lower Chartwell gallery space filled with hung collages, designer furniture and projected material. The collages spill over the edges of their square canvas mounts, showing beautiful men and women, adorned with real wigs and cheap polyester veils. The work is gaudy and in your face, speaking to the sexualisation of popular culture and its conjunction with the luxurious alongside the lurid and the lewd.

The third artwork found in Beautiful Creatures is Jack Smith’s 1962-3 film Flaming Creatures, playing in the Kirk Gallery. Although running long, the whirling tableaux of male, female and gender-ambiguous figures in parodic Orientalist costume is the perfect accompaniment to Henson and Fraser’s works, and offers a mid-20th century precedent for their practice.

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