Too Cute! review – kittens, cuddles and bloodthirsty teddy bears
Source:THE ART NEWSPAPER Author:Hannah Clugston Date: 2019-01-29 Size:
Rachel Maclean has delved into the Art Council Collection and brought……

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Rachel Maclean’s gloriously garish exhibit lays bare the unnerving oddness behind our most affectionate impulses

Friendly yet grotesque … Too Cute! Photograph: Luke Unsworth/Birmingham Museums Trust

Rachel Maclean has delved into the Art Council Collection and brought out the cuteness within. For her exhibition Too Cute! at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – which also includes works from the city’s archive – she has brought out chubby babies, teeny-tiny dolls, doe-eyed puppies and cheeky children hiding under a desert table, stuffing their rosy cheeks. But the Scottish artist (who represented the country at the Venice Biennale in 2017) has not simply created a show that looks like a gran’s living room. She is also exploring that thin line between creepy and cute, asking the question: how can something make you go “ahhh” – but also “arghh”?

Dr Cute.

To get us in the mood, Maclean opens proceedings by dressing up as a giant teddy bear called Dr Cute. The video – the only new work in the exhibition – stars the artist as a blue-faced bear with sharp teeth, luminous yellow wig and pink power suit, attempting to present a lecture on “the effects of cuteness”. Or she would if she could stop getting distracted by emojis, guinea pigs and cuddly toys. The bear is the embodiment of the conflicting emotions cute conjures; at once colourful, friendly and inviting – and grotesque, aggressive and unnerving, especially when she rips the head off a teddy in what she terms “sadomasochistic squeezing”.

The aesthetics of the exhibition look like Dr Cute’s kingdom. Walls are painted pink and turquoise, the wooden floor is covered in a plush carpet of multicoloured squares, plinths are yellow, emoji stickers pop up everywhere, ribbons and bows abound, and we walk through a giant teddy bear’s mouth to enter the main gallery. It is garish but playful, repositioning works as a funfair attraction where – instead of being judged on artistic prowess – they are assessed for cuteness.

Dr Cute’s sugary-sweet tones inform us that in order to be cute, one must have a large head, big eyes, plump cheeks and clumsy, chunky limbs. Maclean plays with this definition, exploring how we feel when these rules are fully employed or slightly subverted. Alain Miller’s On My Way to Paradise places big, beautiful brown eyes on a human heart to horrific effect; a round-faced ventriloquist dummy, distorted and shoved in a box becomes a sinister corpse in Alison Gill’s Talking Dead, and a sweet child smiling in Glenn Brown’s painting turns fake and unsettling when replicated five times in giant frames.

Playful and sinister … Too Cute! Photograph: Luke Unsworth/Birmingham Museums Trust

Advertisers are well aware of cuteness’s ability to encourage consumption, particularly when allied to sexual imagery – hence the predominance of Lolita-style aesthetics. Dick Jewell’s Cosmo/Babies is a collage of photos of babies and cover stars from Cosmopolitan magazine. The juxtaposition of wide-eyed models and bonny infants points at the perverse nature of infantilising women to make them appear sexy. Similarly, Gillian Wearing captures model Lily Cole wearing a porcelain mask of her own face, showcasing her doll-like features and noting that the supposed pinnacle of beauty is childlike.

In building an exhibition around cuteness, Maclean has created a show that is infinitely accessible – after all everyone can appreciate that feeling of warmth that comes from staring into the eyes of a puppy. It is fun – there are tiny trinkets to spot, Dan Hays’ Guinea Pigs to count, Heather Phillipson’s visceral video to watch – but inquiring and challenging too. Of course, our obsession with cute is, as Dr Cute points out, a “coping strategy” and a “distraction”. But with such uncertain times ahead, a jaunt around a colourful wonderland of pink and pets is probably what most of us need.

Too Cute! Sweet is About to Get Sinister is at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery from 26 January until 12 May.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern