In France, the Roaring Twenties are known as “les annees folles” (the crazy years). The decade is currently the subject of fascination for Parisians, whose city was arguably the epicenter of the Jazz Age and certainly a home-away-from-home for the era’s most famous literary figures (Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda, etc). The French capital is hosting a plethora of 1920′s-themed exhibits and screenings over the next few months, the best of which we’re highlighting here.
The Musée de la Mode (www.galliera.paris.fr) has assembled over 170 frocks and 200 accessories from designers such as Poiret, Lanvin, Worth, Chanel, and Vionnet for “Les Années Folles: 1919-1929.”
Baccarat is displaying its finest pieces from the 1920′s, including perfume flagons and delicately sculpted animals, at the Baccarat Museum (www.baccarat.com).
The Goethe Institute (www.goethe.de) will be showing four films on four nights November 20 through 29, on the theme of “Portraits of Women: Four German Filmmakers in the 1920s.”
Not to be out done, the Cinema Français will be showing 30 films from the 1920′s, February 8 through 24 at the Musée d’Orsay’s cinema (www.musee-dorsay.fr).
“Lulu,” the video Aida Ruilova is exhibiting in her current show at New York’s Salon 94 Freemans, is the story of the quintessential femme fatale–with one important twist. Lulu, a chameleonlike creature who effortlessly morphs into each of her suitors’ dream woman only to destroy the men and their love for her, made her first appearance in Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play “Earth Spirit.” But her most famous incarnation was in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film adaptation of Wedekind’s “Pandora’s Box,” in which Lulu was portrayed by Louise Brooks (less well known is Edie Sedgwick’s interpretation, in a short film directed by Richard Leacock). In Ruilova’s version, three men play the part of Lulu. The film is silent except for the experimental buzz and beat of Pink Floyd’s “Bike,” which gives the labyrinthine narrative and claustrophobic sets an unnerving pulse that reminds us of the self-destructive urge often driving us toward the worst possible partners. For more information, see www.salon94.com.
Pucci prints are a widespread symbol of the swinging sixties, but few patterns influenced that era as powerfully as British artist Bridget Riley’s graphically arresting, frequently copied Op Art designs (she once said that her paintings “breed”). She’ll be presenting a new wall painting, 12 of the largest oil-on-linen works that she has yet produced, and 12 gouaches at PaceWildenstein’s Midtown and Chelsea galleries from today through January 5, 2008. Riley has been vocal about her displeasure at seeing her dizzying designs used for decorative motifs, but with the show opening just in time for the holidays, we’re betting we’ll be seeing some Riley-inspired optical illusions before the festive season is over.
Simon English’s art has all the scrappy sexuality, charm, and lyricism of the best British art, poetry, and rock ‘n’ roll traditions. Esoteric historical and contemporary pop culture references, erotica, lyrical texts about love, quotes from songs, and pretty doodles are mixed together to produce an intoxicating potpourri of imagery. He collects styles—and executes each of them masterfully. Within a single drawing, his work can seem like the product of a nerdy hormonal schoolboy, an art student scrawling thumbnail figure sketches, and an attentive illustrator working from reality. English’s latest exhibit, “Lullaby for Marie-Strange, Letgo and Rabbit,” opens at Galerie du jour Agnès B. in Paris on November 9.
How do you cull your references and imagery?
Everything starts from the blank page and travels to a place of recognition. There are no pre-existing images or texts to kickstart the dialogue; it’s a case of “I’ll know when I get there.” I use the process of drawing itself as an engine of recovery, a system in which to coax memory and the imagination to the surface.
Your work is often so romantic. Do you think of yourself as a real softie?
I must be—I cry at the end of “The Railway Children.”
What is the first thing you loved passionately?
Drawing and a dog called Sophie. As a child, I used to eat sketchbooks for breakfast. I never really watched television in the evening—I just used to sit there and draw my way into anywhere I wanted to go.
Your work has a charmingly anachronistic allure. What era most inspires you?
I wrote on a drawing quite recently, entitled “Letgo,” that “I was a Victorian and liked repressed sexuality.” In drawing, I’m quite a time traveler, moving between past, present, and future lives. I’d have to say, though, that the era that most inspires me is now.
Well, “now” must be a real thrill, considering you have this show with Agnès B. How did you link up with her?
I first met Agnès ten years ago as a collector of my work. She’s always been an extremely supportive friend and generous patron. In 2004, I made a drawing installation at the Agnès B. press HQ to coincide with Paris fashion week. The next year, she helped produce my book, “Simon English and the Army Pink Snowman,” for Black Dog Publishing, and we set the idea of this show in motion. I had no idea at the time that 2007 was going to be the year of love in Paris for me—my new partner is French—and that I would become Eurostar’s most frequent customer.
Do you think Parisians will react differently to your art than Londoners?
It’s impossible to predict how those who see the show in Paris will react. I am very much the new boy and I hope they will forgive my appalling attempts at trying to grasp the language and the culture. As I’m spending more and more time here in Paris, the visual diary, as it were, is expanding to incorporate a curious set of cross references. It’s all getting mixed up, and it’s as if the twin-towning committee don’t know who is French or English anymore.
Janette Beckman knows punk when she sees it. The English photographer made her name in the late 1970s, shooting soon-to-be icons such as Joe Strummer and the Sex Pistols. When she came to the U.S. in 1982, she was quick to figure out that the punkest thing going was hip-hop. Over the next eight years, Beckman devoted herself to chronicling the nascent scene of DJs, pop-and-lock dancers, taggers, and MCs, some of whom went on to be legends (Afrika Bambaataa, Slick Rick, Eric B. & Rakim). They’re the subject of her new book, “The Breaks: Stylin’ and Profilin’ 1982-1990.” Here, Beckman talks about living “The Message,” life before stylists, and the coolest girl on the planet right now.
What was your first encounter with hip-hop?
Melody Maker sent me out to cover a show. This was in ’82; it was the first hip-hop tour to come to London. Double-dutch dancers, rappers, breakdancers, scratchers…I’d never seen anything like it. My first real experience of it came not long after, when I came to New York to visit. The whole hip-hop thing was really in the air at that time—you’d walk down the street and see people rapping, wearing these amazing clothes. It felt important.
When hip-hop first emerged, a lot of people wrote it off as a fad. What made you think otherwise?
I think my experience of punk made it easy for me to recognize that hip-hop was a movement, much as punk had been. There are a lot of parallels. Punk was a renaissance from the streets, working-class kids making their own music, their own art, their own fashion. America doesn’t have class the way England has class, but race works in a similar way here. And a song like “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash, I mean, that was poetry, and it was TRUE.
That old Chuck D chestnut about rap being CNN for black people…
Yes! “Rats in the front room, roaches in the back, junkies in the alley with a baseball bat.” Let me tell you, I can vouch for that song. That trip I was telling you about, in ’82, I was staying in this loft downtown, not far from the Mudd Club, and it was terrifying. And that was Manhattan! I mean, imagine what it was like in the Bronx.
One of the astonishing things about the book is the way it catalogs the development of hip-hop style.
For me, the street style is just as important as the music. You have to recall, this was before stylists, before sponsorship deals, before there was a Gap on every other corner, before the Internet. People had to invent their own look. Huge hoop earrings, dookie chains, gold teeth…I mean, where did that come from? I don’t think we’ll ever see a style from the streets like that again, at least nothing that raw.
Of the artists you photographed, do you have any particular favorites?
Oh, well, obviously I love them all. “The Message” is still probably my favorite song. But if I had to choose, I’d have to say Salt ‘N’ Pepa. They were hysterical—rambunctious, smart, smart-mouthed.
Do you listen to any hip-hop now?
Not really, no. I’ll tell you who I’m very into, though—M.I.A. I shot her album cover in London a while ago—she asked me because she liked my Salt ‘N’ Pepa pictures, so how’s that for continuity? Maybe she is kind of hip-hop. Her energy, at least, the way she’s making it up as she goes along. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the coolest.