Written by Beth Hancock
Last weekend I visited Cinema Vezzoli, a solo exhibition by Gagosian artist Francesco Vezzoli at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Collectively, the mixed-media works deal with the conflation of performance and reality in Hollywood’s film industry. Italian-born Vezzoli, a conceptual artist and filmmaker, addresses the artifice of image and the spectacle of celebrity by appropriating film ephemera including headshots of acting icons and movie posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Left: Francesco Vezzoli, All About Anni - Anni vs. Marlene, 2006; Right: film still of Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, 1932
The “baroque spectacle” of modern media is Vezzoli's focus, and there is a subtle allusion to excess throughout the show. It makes sense that Hollywood—an industry that relies heavily on its own mythology to extend its cultural currency—would be his subject of choice. Though the content of the show felt outdated to me and its conception too literal (superimposed tears on celebrity faces is a recurring motif), it did raise questions about what contemporary representations of celebrity are genuinely impactful in an era of media saturation. In other words, it left me thinking, particularly about the rich creative cross-pollination that occurs between the film, fashion and beauty industries.
Top left: Francesco Vezzoli, Wo-man Ray, 2008; Top right: Venus de Milo, ca. 130 BC and Anita Ekberg headshot; Bottom: detail showing Vezzoli's use of an August 1999 Vogue UK cover
One notable piece was Vezzoli’s interpretation of Horst P. Horst’s 1936 portrait of Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti. A critical artist in Vogue’s photographic history, Horst’s work came to exemplify this intersection of cinema, fashion and beauty during the 1930s and ‘40s (the era Vezzoli references most frequently in the exhibition). Vezzoli’s contemporary take, entitled “Death in Venice CA,” adds to Visconti’s face the tear-shaped portraits of actors from his 1971 film Death in Venice. Using the iconography of popular culture, Vezzoli illustrates the common thread of influence that occurs and recurs in depictions of beauty and celebrity over time. Cinema Vezzoli is on view until August 11th. www.moca.org
Left: Francesco Vezzoli, Death in Venice CA, 2008; Right: Horst P. Horst, Portrait of Luchino Visconti, 1936