Reading Time: 2 minutes
photo courtesy Patrick John Mills

New local art exhibition challenges expectations of beauty in art

“WHAT THE HECK is hanging on that light post?” I exclaimed, asking my friend sarcastically, “Is that an old ratty shirt someone just hung out in public for fun?”

“Well, sort of,” she responded, the smirk on her face indicating I’d either missed a crucial bit of information or fallen into some type of conversational trap.

After a brief explanation from my kindly condescending companion, I realized that, in fact, I had done both. While yes, it was an old, paint-stained shirt I had seen hanging from a light post in the heart of downtown Ottawa, the piece of the puzzle I was missing was that the found-art piece was a clever advertisement for a new exhibition that had just opened at a gallery in Westboro—an exhibition intended not to display pieces of attractive art, but grotesque, ugly, and generally unpleasant works instead.

The Pretty Ugly Art exhibition, which I soon learned had just begun its almost month-long run at the Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, had me duped from the very beginning. This strategically hung T-shirt had forced me to consider the artistic merit of the exhibition’s rather ugly displays before even getting me into the gallery’s door. Once I did cross the threshold of the small local gallery, however, I found my hitherto firm ideas about beauty and art were swiftly under siege.

Featuring countless works of sculpture, as well as paintings by several artists, the Pretty Ugly Art exhibition was nothing if not diverse. Highlighting the manipulated, portrait-like pieces of artist Drew Edwards, the eerily evocative paintings of Juan Manuel Vasquez, and the dynamic “keyboard art” of Shannon Lee, the theme of the exhibition brought together drastically different works under the same umbrella of consideration.

Each piece beautifully executed, but in its own way unappealing and grotesque, the works of Pretty Ugly Art demanded the audience to reconsider their definition of what is beautiful, what is artistic, and whether or not those terms ought to be mutually exclusive in order for the true artistic merit of a work to convey itself.

While the experience of the exhibition is by no means intellectually undemanding, nor altogether visually pleasant, this is one brutally forward presentation of art worth the time to see for yourself.

The Pretty Ugly Art exhibit will remain intact in Westboro’s Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery (286 Hinchey Ave.) until July 30. There is no admission, and almost all works are currently for sale.

—Jaclyn Lytle