It was Fashion Week in Paris and over in the 13th arrondissement, three out of the six galleries strung along the rue Louise Weiss showed their affinities with the House of Style. From March through early April, there were exhibitions by the art world's two well-known "industry" photographers, Inez van Lamsweerde and Terry Richardson, and by magazine illustrator Emmanuelle Mafille, who produces a fanzine called Pépé. At the other end of the block, fashion was on holiday, sort of (to my relief), with shows by L.A artist Cameron Jamie, New Yorker Tom Burr and Parisienne Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster.
It was the first nice weekend in Paris in maybe a year, so the street was teeming. Thanks to the fashion contingent, galleries had way more than the normal number of those lanky, dromedary models traipsing around heavy-lidded and full of ennui to heat up the night.
Emmanuelle Mafille at Art: Concept
Since 1993 Emmanuelle Mafille has published the fanzine Pépé, a small, stapled, color magazine that mixes styles, trends and cartoons. At Art: Concept she showed traced drawings whose figures had their eyes styled out as if solarized.
Mafille's youth look like they were traced from ads. She used oatmeal-colored paper and pencils. A few had scribbles of color. She did a wall drawing, too. On the floor against a wall was a blue-toned video, slightly blurry, of a man's head glancing back at the viewer. Techno music blared. The drawings were quietly -- very quietly -- nice, personalized and stylish, like drawings for a pretty nice fanzine, which is what they are.
Terry Richardson at Emmanuel Perrotin
The fashion photographer Terry Richardson has quickly become known for his edgy stuff. At Perrotin, filling all the walls with same-size photographs, vertical and horizontal, Richardson showed the taste of a kinky frat-house bubba, circa 1965, whose trophy room holds pictures of human orifices and the drunken and delirious emissions of a hundred party nights. Among them were photographs of morning constitutionals -- for the house's "log record"; a cavalcade of sex pictures -- gay, straight, bi -- highlighting boys with "big ones" -- Richardson found a few young studs with veritable weapons -- plus pictures of vomiters, mooners, beer, food, raunch and one of himself with his mustache festooned with male ejecta.
Interspersed in his wall of the gore and stench were a few "ordinary" pictures. These images represent another side of Richardson's work, the more sensitive side of his artistic sensibility. His pictures of his New York dealer and wife would be perfect set pieces from The Face or I-d, for example. Here you get a glimpse of what he can do when he's not goofing and mooning.
Yet he goofs well. His shots of Batman fellating Robin are riotous and human without falling into his prevailing toilet-bowl esthetic. He's a good photographer, too, but this kind of splatter-shock doesn't make for good art or fashion. The gallery shows art capitulating to the randier side of fashion, a collapse into the kind of hope and nostalgia that goes nowhere and seems confused. A confusion made even plainer by the photographer himself.
Inez van Lamsweerde at Air de Paris
Next door, at Air de Paris, was a show titled "Me" by Inez van Lamsweerde, the former fashion photographer who uses a computer to alter the physical appearance of her subjects. In past works she has smoothed over breast and genital areas of models and put adult mouths on baby girls. Here, her friends lay back on a white pillow and the camera focuses on their faces in seeming concentration, like they are projecting a current state of mind.
They also have their skin bronzed and darkened, like they'd spent a week in Sri Lanka and had a smear of carbon face mask at the salon. They all have a kind of Punjabi look, staring out at the viewer. Scrawled on a wall between two rooms was the word "Me," through which Van Lamsweerde implies her own psychological self-portrait.
Both fashion and art worlds are heavily laden with Me-ness and throwing identities and parading around in put-ons. Van Lamsweerde came to attention in the early '90s, about the time when terms like "post-human" and "post-sex" were batted about in concert with an atavistic proliferation of implants, tattoos and piercing. Something was in the air. Our bodies were like pods for telekinetic psyches. Internationalism, multiculturalism and crossing over became social themes. Our skin had ineffable semiotic significance.
But here in Paris, Lamsweerde's Punjabi friends looked like rich tourists getting facials. Nothing happened to make them come out of their myopic stupor. They reminded me of O.J. in that terrible hack job on the cover of . . . was it Time magazine? But they aren't O.J.s. They're from the fashion and art crowd, which made the photographs themselves too weird and obviously morphed to be true or artistically suggestive, although very concentrated just the same.
Cameron Jamie at Galerie Praz-Delavallade
In my mind only an artist from L.A. would make a show about a Michael Jackson look-alike in the throes of an apartment wrestling match, dressed up, if I remember correctly, like he was in the "Thriller" video, with the white shirt and tie and black pants. Jamie showed a comical video of the apartment match and a slew of roughly 8 by 10 inch color and black-and-white photographs.
A self-proclaimed "apartment wrestler," Jamie is member of an L.A. coterie whose kingpins are Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. Jamie has collaborated with both of them. And like them he makes the idea of a quest for identity into a literal struggle, if a comic one. That in itself makes him a representation artist, playing the artist as clown -- the same kind of motif seen, for example, in early Picasso and in literature ranging from Genet to Böll to Beckett. But Jamie's is a very L.A. thing, a Hollywood thing for that matter, rich in make-believe and hope, as well as sadness and failure.
Jamie's work emphasizes its pathetic aspect. The Michael Jackson joke is a reference to the mask of Fame and the struggle to paint a face for the public eye. In real life we grimace when we see blancmange Michael Jackson struggling with his identity. Jamie makes tableaux vivants and performance rituals about poseurs; he constructs live-action events about farce and failure. He plays the court cartoonist in the tradition of Thomas Nast, Honoré Daumier, Gary Trudeau. Here he presented a mirror and some icongraphy about make-believe and hope gone wacky and sad.
Tom Burr at Galerie Almine Rechs
Tom Burr is a site-specific installation artist with shtick. He shows a particular kind of public space -- park warrens where night cruising takes place, sex-shop booths, public toilets -- as a way to examine the architecture of public intimacy.
At Almine Rechs Burr built three black booths, each with a smoky Plexiglas pane installed, one at the top, one on one side and one at floor level. They were designed more for looking out than in. Inside were black rubber mats. The booths were well done and created the feeling that they were designed for your own peculiar fetish.
On the wall were black-and-white photographs he'd taken in Palm Springs. Palm trees were interspersed with pictures of houses peeking up from behind hedges, fences, and walls, suggesting a world of Kennedy compounds where things Clinton-Lewinsky-like go on inside.
The thing is, Burr's installation emptied out while retaining an air of suggestion. Most of us interpret suggestion through particular, personal, sexual associations. Burr plays on a style of architecture whose associative memory is several percentage points more male than female. (I could be projecting here.) Standing in his black booth or looking at the 8 by 10 inch photos, it was hard not to think of lurid sensations and private goings-on. So it's a kind of conceptual representation, whose subject is private and public life.
More specifically, his subject is the architecture of intimacy as made for a public milieu. E.g., public toilets, sex-shop booths, walled estates, phone booths, etc. Burr's esthetic is spare, simple and depersonalized. One thinks of Dan Graham crossed with Vito Acconci. It's too neat and clean to be creepy or germ-laden. But there is enough atmosphere of old 42nd Street sex shops mixed with a suggestion of Palm Springs secrets to make one feel self-conscious and queasy about how intimate human experiences are architecturally outfitted in public, whether you're male or not.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at Galerie Jennifer Flay
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is one of France's most prolific installation artists, known for designing spaces with ambiance, or associative environments. At Jennifer Flay she showed a video and created two environments.
At the front door a TV was installed behind a salmon-colored wall with a small horizontal window, about six-inches high and the width of the screen. Playing was an eight-minute video loop made from slides of various landscapes -- Brazil, Japan, India. The video set up the atmosphere of the two installations inside, both of which softly shimmered with a prickly, meditative interiority that was both soft and pensive.
The first, called Pavillon d'or (Gold Pavilion) used the same salmon pink walls and added a strip of gold plastic, about four-inches wide, laminated horizontally across the longest wall at eye level. On the floor was a carpet of plastic grass. The gold horizon band created a '70s wrap-around effect, the fake grass adding to it. Standing on the green was both like putting on the atmosphere and being worn by it.
To enter the second environment, called Repulse Bay, visitors had to descend an aluminum ladder (the stairs had been removed). The space was azure blue with three white beach towels lying on the floor. The whole room lined at the floor's edge with thin blue neon. Repulse Bay recalled installations by Doug Wheeler and James Turrel. But DGF creates a mental image along with an atmosphere. The blue space felt like the engulfing blue of a TV combined with a swimming-pool; the glitter and pink of Pavillon d'or felt like architectural gift-wrapping by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
This kind of art is difficult to describe. Even harder to describe is the feeling, which for me called to mind the future more than the past, as if each space were a kind of memorial dream room for potential places. Gonzalez-Foerster has been working this way for over a dozen years. It's particularly French, because artists here often use space and atmosphere and a form of suggestion that traces back 100 years to Symbolist painting and poetry. But it's her reaching forward and back in time and place that sets her apart.
JEFF RIAN is an American writer living in Paris who works on the literary and art magazine Purple.