“The Freak Show”

Musée d'Art Contemporain de Lyon

With a title like “The Freak Show,” we might have expected to see Damien Hirst’s creatures in formaldehyde, Ron Mueck’s giants, or even Maurizio Cattelan’s Pope John Paul II crushed by a meteorite. Yet the exhibition, curated by art critic Vincent Pécoil and architect/designer Olivier Vadrot, two of the codirectors of Lyon’s nonprofit art center La Salle des Bains, contains no such figurative works. Rather, the exhibition transposes the concept behind sideshows—those spectacles that featured dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded women, contortionists, and the like—into the realm of art itself, presenting recent works that play with size and form in ways that might appear “monstrous” or strange. In the exhibition catalogue, Pécoil refers to what he calls the first “freak show of modern art,” the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition organized by the Nazi regime in Munich in 1937.

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