An Ode to the Ugly: In Praise of Ivan Albright

Winford Hunter

Sammy Aiko Zimmerman

The left cheek sags like melting wax, the lips twisted to expose crooked yellow teeth. Every single inch of pores and skin is protected with dripping wounds and growths. His eyes, cloudy and asymmetrical, look as although they may well fall to the ground at any moment.

When Ivan Albright’s Image of Dorian Grey first appeared in 1945, the Chicago Tribune reported that museum experienced “a heck of a time managing the crowds flocking to see his painting.” Readers and critics were shocked and fascinated by the portray as they ended up by the rest of Albright’s oeuvre, which attracted controversy with its distinctly grotesque design and style. Almost 80 years afterwards, not a great deal has adjusted: people to the Artwork Institute are nonetheless captivated and repulsed by Dorian and by Into the World There Arrived a Soul Referred to as Ida, a further of Albright’s paintings, which now hangs just all around the corner.

As an intern in the Artwork Institute’s Interpretation section, I spent hrs interviewing readers as they exited the Arts of the Americas galleries wherever Dorian and Ida dwell. When I asked them if any of the artworks in the galleries stunned them, I experienced been anticipating to listen to about the carousel horse or the weather vane, possibly Kelly Church’s striking basketry or Marsden Hartley’s bold assertion of sexuality. Alternatively, just about half talked about Dorian or Ida.

The paintings have been “jarring,” they stated, “gory, alarming, aggressive,” and “somehow different” from the other artworks. Just one particular person explained sensation the two “repulsed” and “drawn in” by Dorian.

I just cannot feel to paint good issues.

—Ivan Albright

I like to feel that Albright would have smiled to know that in 2022, as in 1945, his performs elicit this sort of impressive and sophisticated emotional responses in their viewers. I assume the reason that they do is easy: they’re ugly. Albright’s paintings are painstakingly specific and masterfully crafted, but above all they are horribly, insistently, undeniably unattractive. During his creative vocation, Albright was dedicated to the output of ugliness, conceptualizing it as a powerful social and political software from the ills of the present day West. Albright conjured on canvas a latent ugliness lurking beneath the glittering surface area of a society obsessed with its own perfection. As John P. Murphy, curator of Flesh: Ivan Albright at the Art Institute of Chicago set it, Albright “harnessed ugliness as a transgressive force capable of undermining the values of Western civilization.”

[Albright] utilised ugliness as a type of essential resistance to the blandishments of splendor imposed by mass tradition … challenged the idea that the entire body is a discrete, sealed-off entity, very easily classified as stunning or unsightly.

—John P. Murphy, now the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Artwork Middle, Vassar Higher education

In 2022, our obsession with beauty appears to be like rather distinct from the 1940s, nevertheless not by substantially: the sq.-jawed armed forces hunks and dutiful propaganda blondes of the Entire world Wars have supplied way to actors like Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick, Natalie Dyer and Joe Keery resurrecting the Cold War in Stranger Points, and each individual Marvel actor in every single Marvel film ever produced. And the illustrated journal beauties are not so unique from the exercise influencers and natural beauty gurus of the digital age. We are no significantly less jealous of splendor, in distinct the superficial, generally artificially enhanced attractiveness of the system, and no less nervous to protect our bodies in opposition to the lbs ., pouches, and pockmarks that seem as the result of ageing, ingesting, drinking, acquiring ill, providing birth—in limited, as the consequence of daily life. The shapewear and snail-slime serums, the steroids and surgical procedures, reveal a individuals nevertheless obsessed with pursuing an not possible and arbitrary elegance.

Albright’s ugly, grotesque, decaying bodies inform us a story of the human kind that operates counter to every single internet marketing campaign and propaganda energy. With their utter disregard for any type of American Desire, any muscular chauvinism or assure of nationwide or personalized betterment, it is as stunning now as it was in 1945 to find them in a set of galleries devoted to telling the tale of American artwork. (One of the people I talked with described their shock at observing such paintings from an American artist.) These will work do not seek to come across hope in suffering, triumph in wrestle, or attractiveness in ugliness—they are ugliness unflinching, unmitigated, and unwilling to compromise.

Ivan Albright

Each individual inch of this canvas bursts with the colours and textures of decay. His palms are wrinkled and bulging, the nails grey and damaged, lined in yellow pustules and oozing sores, dripping with blood so thick and lurid it seems like a fungus with a existence of its have.

During my time in the galleries, I couldn’t aid but discover how some guests handled the museum as an Instagram backdrop—they would pose for a photoshoots in entrance of a famous portray and then stroll absent absorbed in their mobile phone, hardly sparing the artwork (enable alone its label) a 2nd glance. Even though other artworks grow to be established pieces for electronic written content, Dorian and Ida resist the influencer’s lens. Their pure hideousness would destroy any diligently curated grid.

In a cultural landscape so saturated with the micromanaged attractiveness of celebrity tradition and personal branding, I assume that, possibly counterintuitively, ugliness is 1 of the most worthwhile items that artwork has to present us. Ugliness demands our attention, undermines our assumptions, confronts us with the horror inside and about us from which it is so effortless and so tempting to turn absent. Many years immediately after their look, Dorian and Ida are nevertheless attracting, repulsing, perplexing, and astonishing museum people as powerfully as ever—not in spite of, but due to the fact of, their ugliness.

—Sammy Aiko Zimmerman, McMullan Arts Leadership Intern, Interpretation

See more is effective by Ivan Albright.

Study John P. Murphy’s post “Fleshing Out Ivan Albright.”

Master more about the 2018 exhibition Flesh: Ivan Albright at the Art Institute of Chicago.


 John P. Murphy, “Flesh: Ivan Albright and the Aesthetics of Ugliness,” in Ivan Albright Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago (The Artwork Institute of Chicago, 2019).


  • Collection
  • Artists
  • Views
Next Post

Saudi Arabia, Singapore Fund Korea's Kakao Entertainment

Riding superior in world-wide Television set, songs and film, the Korean amusement marketplace is poised for an additional significant injection of money. Kakao Enjoyment, which stretches across K-pop, webtoons and on the internet tale-telling, declared Thursday that it has lifted $966 million (KRW1.2 trillion) as a result of a bond […]
Saudi Arabia, Singapore Fund Korea’s Kakao Entertainment