Friday, July 06, 2012

Jean Paul Gaultier at the DeYoung

An exhibit devoted to the career of French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier has been installed at the de Young museum for the last four months. Though I am only peripherally interested in fashion and Gaultier's career in particular, the exhibit turned out to be one of the most amazing installations I have ever seen in a museum. For once, the tired, misused term "multimedia" actually applies, and is used brilliantly thoughout the huge basement space at the de Young.

The exhibit was created for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts last year by a former fashion model, Thierry-Maxime Loriot above. (Click here for an interesting interview with Loriot at the Fashion Projects site.)

The exhibit begins with a blue diorama populated by close to a dozen mannequins, all of which feature holographic projections that create moving facial features synced to various soundtracks. What looks like lighting fixtures in the top half of the above photo are actually individual projectors for each mannequin's face.

If you were ever creeped out by some of the animatronics at Disneyland, be prepared to be doubly creeped out and amused by the latest technologies in simulating human beings. The extraordinary projections were created by a theater troupe in Montreal called UBU/Compagnie de création, and they give the exhibit something of a Disney amusement park ride feeling.

In fact, you could call JPG: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk a French, gay, hypersexualized version of Disneyland's It's A Small World, since Gaultier brazenly plunders the art and fashion of the entire globe.

"That's one of the things I like about him," my host Patrick Vaz said. "And he's being generous and not hoarding by allowing photography at this exhibit, which is unusual and reflects well on him."

There are plenty of incidental delights throughout the show, such as a moving catwalk with about twenty rotating haute couture creations on mannequins just across the way from the Punk Rock display, where a very witty Latino Barrio version of Frida Kahlo's Two Fridas has been painted on the wall. (Notice the "Diego" neck tattoo.)

Various holographic Jean Paul Gaultiers also appear throughout, telling stories and explaining his philosophy.

My favorite bit of wall text was next to a photo of Gaultier as a boy of about ten with his beloved grandmother. I am paraphrasing, but the story goes something like this: "After seeing the Follies Bergere for the first time, I was enthralled and spent the next day at school drawing an elaborate design with bare breasts and lots of feathers. The teacher discovered it and made me go to the front of the class where he pinned the drawing to my back and made me parade all around the school. Instead of this being a punishment, however, it made me feel normal, like one of the boys getting into trouble, not a sissy who didn't like playing soccer. When I went home, my grandmother was very understanding. She read the tarot cards and told me that I was going to be very successful and not to worry about anything."

With a grandmother like that, no wonder he's done so well. The exhibit continues for another month and I recommend it highly.


Markley Morris said...

Thank you so much, Mike. I had no intention of seeing this show, having been only minimally amused by the Vivienne Westwood. I'm strongly of the opinion that the De Young should devote it's resources to something other than high fashion. And, being childless, I've never been to Disneyland, nor wanted to. But you've convinced me and I can't wait to see this.

sfmike said...

Dear Markley: Cool. It's nice to hear from you.

namastenancy said...

I should go back and revisit the show. It was ruined for me by the ubiquitous fawning done by Wilsey and crew over Gautier. It was nauseating and certainly colored my impressions but the mannequins are awesome.

sfmike said...

Dear Nancy: Do go back. It was the most amusing exhibit AS AN EXHIBIT I've seen in some time, with constant winking amusements hidden in plain sight. I would have probably had the same reaction as you if I'd done the press preview with Dede et al but I didn't, and the show was a nice surprise.