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Pictures in a Shoebox: David LaChapelle at La Monnaie de Paris

Pictures in a Shoebox: David LaChapelle at La Monnaie de Paris
One of the great treats about experiencing art in Paris is doing it after hours.  A majority of the city’s museums and other exhibition venues host late night openings that transform just another dinner and movie Friday night into a feast for the eyes. The hottest dish on the current menu is surrealist photographer David LaChapelle’s show at La Monnaie de Paris, King Louis XV’s imposing 18th century French Mint on the left bank of the Seine. Louis and LaChapelle. Dinner is served.

A duo of giant banners featuring LaChapelle’s transexual muse Amanda Lepore fluttered against The Mint’s stone façade, heralding the promise of blasphemy, subversion and hypervisual photography banqueting within. My belly rumbled. But once I got in, I quickly saw I wasn’t the only one hungry for LaChapelle ce soir.

The beginning was a showstopper of traffic-jamming proportions. It was also a foreboding that this was going to be a much more intimate dinner with strangers than my boyfriend and I had anticipated. Courtney Love in the luminous and eerie “Pieta,” the cover of LaChapelle’s Heaven to Hell, and an oversize picture of Kanye West as Christ faced each other from recessed walls in a room smaller than a dollhouse closet. I got lost in the vortex of a mini mob while reading the textual notes (which were great, by the way) and being sardined made it impossible to have “a moment” with either picture.

David LaChapelle - Courtney Love's Pieta

The next room seemed much more promising, exactly like what you would expect in a venue as prodigious as The Mint. As big as a ballroom, it was a stark space with white walls and high ceilings housing LaChapelle’s fantastic perversion “The Deluge,” blown up to mesmerizing proportions. This is what an exhibition should be, I thought, until I became distracted by images of 10-foot cardboard stacks of California license plates and car grills on the remaining walls. Determined to find the Rose Line between the Book of Genesis and 310 Motoring, I looked to the “making of” videos for an explanation. They were on disappointingly small monitors, cramped in standing room only cubbyholes.

Unfortunately, this sense of claustrophobia pervaded the show, and not because there were large crowds. The organizers bungled the space, the biggest mistake being that most of the exhibition was awkward to follow and hung in tiny rooms. I’ve been in confessionals bigger than the shoebox where the underwater “Awakenings” series was displayed. LaChapelle’s over the top, white trash Americana photographs from Heaven to Hell were barely there in a tic-tac sized inlet. And not only were they poorly located, they seemed a bizarre inclusion, completely out of touch with the Parisian climate. In the final room, “Accumulations,” a frazzled tour guide and her flock held an endless vigil in a space too small to accommodate Paris Hilton’s smiling, purple cameltoe in “Hi Bitch, Bye Bitch,” let alone all us pervs there to sneak a peak.

David LaChapelle - Paris Hilton's Hi Bitch, Bye Bitch

But, despite the baffling misuse of space, the show was not without compelling art. Larger-than-life scale photographs like “The Deluge” and “Holy War,” with their commercialistic overtones and religious and cultural implications, seemed to grow in zeitgeist because of their sheer size. LaChapelle’s cult of celebrity shots with actresses like Angelina Jolie and Pamela Anderson vacillated between the virtuous and vulgar, while Christ’s urban salvation in the “Jesus is My Homey” photographs conflated both.

A mixed bag of an experience that could’ve been brilliant had the organizers taken note that, especially when it comes to LaChapelle, size does matter.

David LaChapelle - Deluge


  • davenycity said:

    great blog thank you

  • Jen said:

    Thanks for stopping by – I hope it becomes a habit :) !

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