I'm in Taipei, Taiwan awaiting the commencement of my residency at the Yingge Ceramics Museum. I'm here about a week before my first meeting with the residency coordinator and I'm doing the art-tourist thing. First stop: Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei. The Museum's featured exhibition is a massive display of photographer and filmmaker David LaChapelle's work from 1985 to the present. His first professional gig was for Andy Warhol. The eccentric nature of his work follows suit. The exhibition was sectioned thematically with groupings such as Deluge and Awakened, Holy War, Art in Heaven, and Michael Jackson, the most pointedly descriptive being Excessive Consumption, Celebrity Worship, and 15 Years of American Obsessions. I'm pretty sure Miss Spears fits in that category on all accounts.
LaChapelle directed Spears' 2004 video for "Everytime". According to my boyfriend, the video has an altered ending from the original ending of the pop queen's suicidal drowning in her luxury whirlpool. The added ending is Miss Spears waking up from a dream of the suicide, which just ruins the whole thing. And, runs absolutely counter to LaChapelle's tragically glamorous aesthetic. LaChapelle has been the director for a surprising number of pop music videos including Moby, Avril Lavigne, No Doubt, Blink 182, Elton John, Christina Agulera and Mariah Cary, to name a few. Blink 182's "Feeling This" video was popular among the school groups attending the exhibition that day. As the video played on the wall of the stairwell where steps provided stadium seating, the youthful Asian audience giggled at the video's rebelling teens tearing off their school uniforms and busting out of prison-like boarding school joining the band in a punk, mosh-ing, riotous party scene. How cool would that be to go on a school field trip to a museum as a teen and watch music videos? Awesome. However, the rest of the exhibition was an unapologetic display of adult content, and I'm not sure how it works in Taiwan, but if it were the States, every one of those kid's parents would have HAD to sign a consent form.
Each of LaChapelle's works is a vat of religious, art-historical, and pop-culture references. The museum is so packed with this imagery, I'm surprised the windows and doors weren't starting to leek with some kind of chartreuse, syrup-y excrement of all the undigested cultural decadence. A documentary of the staging of the photography showed the workforce, organization and staging involved in The Deluge, a modern re-dux of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco in c-print. I'm willing to bet that the production of this one print was probably more labor intensive than Miss Spears' faux suicide.
LaChapelle's Rape of Africa, quotes another Renaissance masterpiece, Venus and Mars by Botticelli. This was not my favorite work of the exhibition, but the environment created for its display was the most intriguing. In its own room, the c-print occupied the length of the back wall of the room, but each of the sidewalls to the left and right were floor-to-ceiling mirrors along the entire length of each wall. The imagery of the work is potent enough, but its infinite repetition is absolutely nauseating. Interestingly, the device of the mirror has been appearing in my own art-viewing excursions for the past few years. At the Whitney a few years ago, Rudolf Stingel installed a gold-toned floor for visitors to walk on in one room of his exhibition .... bad day to wear a skirt. The roof of the Metropolitan featured Jeff Koons' mirror-polished stainless steel balloon doggie, reflecting us all as clowns. In Millenium Park, Chicago, Anish Kapoor's "bean" looses its formless form in not only the viewer's reflection, but in reflecting the entire cityscape. I think I'll start some research on the chronology and meaning (maybe . . . do i want to go there?) of what exactly Van Eyck started with The Arnolfini Wedding.
Back to LaChapelle in Taiwan, humor is also a major component of his work. Dark, tragic, morbid, and apocalyptic are all forms of humor that resonate in most of the exhibition, except for a small section of photographs entitled, Recollections in America, where LaChapelle seems to take on a slapstick, political satire role. He has altered vintage photos of America's middle class by adding is own photographic components to create an absurd situation. See if you can tell, left, what is what. After being saturated with images of pop-porno-Hollywood-glamor-glossyness, this was a refreshing end to the LaChapelle Show.
Thank you Mr. LaChapelle, for the visual ephedrine. Unfortunately, now I'm totally crashing, exhausted from jet lag, language barrier, night-market food, three flights of stairs to my miniature studio apartment, and the after-effect of your retrospective. After some much needed sleep, I'm sure I'll be energetic about finally getting to start on my own work. Clay seems so mundane after LaChapelle. I'll take that as a challenge, thank you.
Above: Taipei 101, me and boyfriend, and another surreal moment.