WHY BE EXOTIC IN PRIVATE?
14th DECEMBER 2018 - 9th MARCH 2019
“If you create the stage setting and it is grand, everyone who enters will play their part.” Morris Lapidus
“At the seaside there is always a tension between reality and artifice, the mundane and the fanciful, the everyday and the escape – and this is liminality is part of the seaside’s genius” Jenny Steele
Jenny Steele is a Scottish artist who lives and works in Manchester. Her work spans across drawing, sculpture, decoration and installation but always with a focus on architecture. Steele is fascinated in the idea of architecture as a stage set for extraordinary activities and encounters with her work referencing 20th Century interwar seaside architecture. 'Why Be Exotic in Private?’ her first solo exhibition in London relates to the performative nature of seaside holidaying and the stage set like atmosphere which this pleasure architecture creates. The exhibition isthe result of her research into South Beach Miami’s 1930’s ‘Seaside Moderne’ architecture which was inspired by the long sweeping streamlined curves and details of ocean liners and the International Modernist style. In addition to recording the formal and decorative elements of the buildings she has explored the social history that facilitated the largest area of coastal art deco architecture to be built internationally, South Beach, Miami. This research was supported by the Artists International Development Grant from the British Council and Arts Council England.
The interwar period was one of significant societal change. After the trauma of WW1 and the introduction of annual holidays in the UK and the USA created a huge leisure boom. Seaside Moderne architecture was built to create environments where people were permitted to enjoy themselves for a temporary period, to escape from the everyday. This new modern architecture echoed a new utopic vision of the future demonstrating the optimism of the 1930’s felt across many western countries.
Manufactured from swampland with imported trees and foliage, parrots and flamingos (none of which were indigenous to the area), the tropical paradise of South Beach Miami was seen as the ultimate holiday destination, designed as another-worldly place it became a playground that would provide a backdrop for people to perform being at the seaside. During the 1970’s and 1980’s following years of neglect, many of the art deco buildings were restored by the newly formed Miami Design Preservation League. Like a phoenix from the ashes, a skyline emerged of streamlined pastel buildings which came together as an architectural masterpiece. This successful regeneration of the area showed us the transformative power of colour, design and pattern.
Steele in WHY BE EXOTIC IN PRIVATE? has created a ‘mise-en-scene’ – a total artwork where she has drawn on the architectural ideas of Morris Lapidus who declared architecture as a movie set where the guest took on the role of an actor. She has carefully considered the fabric of the gallery as an integral part of her immersive artwork creating an exhibition which considers not only the surface of the walls but also the windows. A faux jungle of foliage and palms frame the gallery’s main front window, evocative of the 1920’s staged tropical garden in Miami’s Lincoln Road Mall which you were not allowed to enter, you simply had to stand outside and gaze in at this exotic private world.
The interior walls of the gallery have been painted in a pastel colour palette evocative of South Beach with paint from ‘Little Greene Paint Company.’ Reminiscent of the artist Marc Chamille-Chamimowicz whose artwork plays with the ideas of art, décor and domestic environments four shaped panels have been installed into the gallery space suggesting temporary theatre sets with the exhibitions central work of screen-printed wallpaper been pasted onto the front of panels. The wallpaper comprises Steele’s graphic motifs and designs which are built up with layers of colour and put into a repeat pattern.
The reverse of each panel is painted in a single colour from the same South Beach palette and reveal a restaged collection of research, photography, postcards and historical memorabilia from the buildings which have influenced the designs on the reverse giving us a valuable insight into the social history of the art deco community she has researched.
Jenny Steele’s work demonstrates a refined graphic sensibility and a sensitive use of colour. Her way of working challenges the categorical divisions that exist between art, design and décor as she moves effortlessly between them. By exploring the formal and decorative aspects of architecture through the means of drawing, painting and printmaking she has developed a strong visual language that explores the spaces between art, life and decoration bringing the exotic stage set like Miami modern architecture to London.