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MOCA: Opening Party for Hedi Slimane’s California Song

November 12, 2011 Photography No Comments

Sooj and I stopped by Hedi Slimane’s show at MOCA Pacific Design Center….

Predictably, this event drew more of the Fashion crowd than the Art crowd…. it’s okay, I like pretty people.

Upstairs, there was this big cube projecting Hedi’s signature black and white images while LA-based No Age banged on drums.

Copy + Paste of an Article in The New York Times on the show:

November 9, 2011
A Fashion Designer’s Second Act

WHEN Hedi Slimane stepped down as artistic director at Dior Homme in 2007, Fashion Wire Daily summed up his tenure this way: “Slimane leaves Dior with the well-earned reputation as the single most influential men’s designer this century, the most copied of his peers and the only one to achieve the status of a rock star.”

The comparison was apt, given Mr. Slimane’s celebrity and his role in styling the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Jack White, and the outsize reputation he garnered in his relatively brief life as a fashion designer, starting at Yves Saint Laurent in 1996, when he was just 28, and then at Dior in 2000.

Few people leave their profession when they are at the top of the game. In fashion, perhaps only Tom Ford comes to mind. But even Mr. Ford — after a stint in Hollywood that culminated in his direction of the Oscar-nominated “A Single Man” — came back into the fold and is now designing again.

But Mr. Slimane seems to have left fashion behind with nary a second thought, reinventing himself as a photographer in the past few years, one who has produced an array of strikingly intimate portraits, nearly all of them black and white, of some of the most famous faces in contemporary culture: Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Brian Wilson, Gisele Bundchen, Robert De Niro and Kate Moss.

Never one to talk volubly about himself — interviews from when he was at Saint Laurent and Dior were infrequent, and now read as if they might have been slightly torturous for the young designer — Mr. Slimane has remained somewhat elusive in his new career. He regularly declines to talk to the press and consented to an interview only under the condition that it be conducted solely by e-mail.

His postfashion life has not gone entirely unnoticed, however. Most recently, Mr. Slimane’s photographs of an all-grown-up Frances Bean Cobain — the daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love — became an Internet sensation, bringing Mr. Slimane’s name back into the public domain.

Those portraits of Ms. Cobain — “It was about a simple testimony of her 18 years,” Mr. Slimane wrote in an e-mail — followed a series of well-received gallery shows in Europe and the release of a new book of Mr. Slimane’s photos, “Anthology of a Decade: 2000-2010.” And now there is the unveiling of an exhibition of his new work, “California Song,” which opens on Saturday at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Pacific Design Center.

Taken together, they represent something of a coming-out party for Hedi Slimane, photographer.

Certainly, for Jeffrey Deitch, recently appointed the director of the Los Angeles museum, Mr. Slimane’s work is worthy of a major multimedia exhibition, which will include prints and projections and feature music by No Age, a Los Angeles band.

“I’ve always, from the beginning, thought that he was one of the most original artistic voices of his generation,” Mr. Deitch said in a telephone interview. “I’m fascinated with artists like Hedi, where there’s a vision of art that goes beyond one’s medium.”

As the name of the show suggests, Mr. Slimane, who is French, has found something of a muse in the state of California.

“It is just about alignments really, and everything falls into place right now,” he said about Los Angeles, which he has called home since last year. “Artists, museums, and galleries are much stronger. There is also the space for everyone, the distance to elaborate. It certainly had a big influence on me.”

When one looks at much of Mr. Slimane’s American work from the last few years, it is hard not to think of the Swiss photographer Robert Frank, the consummate European outsider looking in, identifying and reassigning to Americans their own lost mythology.

“It is almost about a utopia,” Mr. Slimane said of the show, adding: “I discovered Los Angeles in the late ’90s. The city was not at its best at the time, but I fell for it right away. There is something almost haunted about it, a vibrant mythology I find rather inspiring.”

Mr. Deitch said that in Mr. Slimane’s work there seemed to be no clear line between where photography ended and music, fashion or fine art began.

“One of the reasons why there’s such a connection between the photography and the clothing design is that his vision is sculptural,” Mr. Deitch said.

It is difficult to examine Mr. Slimane’s photo work separately from his reign atop the world of men’s fashion. In particular, the Dior years would define a very specific moment in his and pop culture’s conjoined histories. The black skinny jean, the skinny black tie, the short-waisted leather jacket or snug blazer: his work at Dior, where he created Dior Homme, is credited with helping bring men’s wear from the loose-fitting, slacker style of the 1990s into the postmillennial look of form-fitting, clean lines.

When Mr. Slimane left Dior amid well-publicized infighting with executives, published reports suggested he wanted to start his own label and possibly move into women’s fashion. Since then, however, the world of design is one he has not seemed particularly eager to rejoin.

“With fashion design, there was also always a risk at the time to lose the sense of the perspective, the discernment,” he said, adding: “It might have been perceived as an abrupt switch for others, but it felt like precisely the right moment for me, in 2007. I had already mainly defined my style, and could let it on its own for a while, see where it ends up, or survives in the streets.”

For Mr. Slimane, now 43, full immersion in photography was a return to an interest he pursued while growing up. As a student, he took classes in photography and studied political science, in hopes of becoming a reporter and photographer on international affairs.

Ultimately, he would switch his focus to art history. Fashion came next, which, like his photography today, exhibited an intense fixation on rock culture.

“Just like zillions of children, album covers educated and informed me, and certainly did I later transpose organically, rather than by intent, those principles both in fashion design and photography,” he said.

His photo work often portrays musicians at the fringes of fame or notoriety: up-and-coming artists whose bona fides lie primarily in the independent music scene. Others, perhaps, achieved widespread renown (or infamy), like Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty, but seemed somehow to remain at the frayed, tragic edges of rock culture.

Mr. Slimane wrote that he felt most attracted to “a certain creative honesty, an authenticity, sometimes a vulnerability” when selecting photo subjects. Those subjects, whether emerging musicians or simply someone he discovers on the street, “are usually not yet fully aware of their talent, or grace,” he explained.

“They are either completely restless, in a romantic, antiheroic manner,” he continued, “or, on the contrary, totally introverted — which you might call an ambiguous space, or rather, for me, an oblique space.”

What unifies much of Mr. Slimane’s work is its fixation on the “transient age between childhood and adulthood,” as he described it. It also, as some have praised and others have criticized, vaunts a certain prepubescent androgyny.

“It is about transformation, and search of identity,” he said. “By nature, it is undefined, both psychologically and physically.”

Mr. Slimane attributed his longstanding fascination with androgyny in part to the ambiguities in his first name.

“Hedi was and is still misspelled ‘Heidi,’ and my perception of genders ended up slightly out of focus from an early age,” he said.

“Besides this ambiguity, my first record was a Bowie album,” he said, referring to “David Live,” which he got for his sixth birthday. He absorbed glam rock, he said, which “became a normative experience for me, and certainly the most significant creative influence for the future in both design and photography.”

One of Mr. Slimane’s favorite subjects at the moment — and the promotional centerpiece of “California Song” — is Christopher Owens, the singer and the guitarist for the San Francisco band Girls. A look at Mr. Slimane’s portraits of him make it clear why: the skinny, sad-eyed singer, with his painted nails, long, stringy blond hair, tattoos and haunting stare, perfectly encapsulates the California moment — its sun-infused indie rock sounds and its slacker-fashion renaissance, recalling early images of a young, drug-addled Kurt Cobain, peering warily and wearily into the abyss of impending stardom.

Mr. Owens said in a phone interview that Mr. Slimane’s portraits of Gore Vidal, one of Mr. Owens’s favorite authors, persuaded him to pose for several shoots: one in and around Mr. Slimane’s home in Los Angeles, and two more in Mr. Owens’s environs in San Francisco.

“He doesn’t talk very much at all while shooting or while he’s hanging out; he’s more of a listener,” Mr. Owens said. “He wanted me to very much be myself, you know; there wasn’t any kind of styling or weird things like that, which are always uncomfortable. He just wanted me to do my thing and be very natural. But, at the same time, he knew exactly what he wanted to do as far as the structure of the shot went.”

Still Mr. Slimane remains elusive, even among friends.

“It’s kind of embarrassing now that we’ve become friends, but I really don’t know that much about him,” Mr. Owens said.

That intense circumspection is, of course, what seems to make Mr. Slimane who he is. It’s a kind of resolute searching in the darkness that has come to define his work, which has, in turn, documented and informed, defined and refined the era in which he lives.

“He’s interested in performers, artists, who have an affinity for and an inspiration from the darker side,” Mr. Deitch said. “The work is something that leads into the darkness, but you come out with positive inspiration. It’s not all depressing work. It looks into the deeper recesses of the soul.”

Copy + Paste of MOCA’s Press Release:

The Museum of Contemporary Art presents Hedi Slimaneʼs California Song, the first West Coast solo museum exhibition of the photographerʼs work, on view at MOCA Pacific Design Center from November 12, 2011, through January 22, 2012. California Song spans the photographerʼs “California period” and traces his explorations of cycles of urban youth culture and artistic communities, through installations of photographic essays, exhibitions, and publications.

Slimane has achieved global recognition over the past decade for his discovery and presentation of emerging musicians and artists. His publications on London youth are among the first books published about the early days of the new British punk-rock movement at the beginning of this decade, capturing the birth of the first generation of Internet users, and redefining the concept of “fans” as an indie youth imagery that has developed globally through emerging social networks. Slimaneʼs widely followed photographic “diary,” created in 2006, established and popularized an entirely new genre—the online photo diary.

Slimane has invented a new and oblique visual language to represent youth and reinvent the rock documentary. In his work, live performance is reduced to a minimal, photographic lexicon—a ritual black-and-white convention of signs. Still life photographs become almost liturgical—a singular, silent expression of youth.

“Hedi Slimane has created a new and fresh visual language for youth today,” said MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch. “His black-and-white images capture the essential expression of the emerging art, fashion, and music scenes around the world.”

Slimane’s exhibition at MOCA will be divided into two parts. An installation and a series of black-and-white print photographs from his California years will be presented on the ground floor, and a sonic, motion-photography installation, produced specifically for MOCA, will be featured on the second floor. The installation will reference a multi-projection, cubic, architectural format, which Slimane has constructed in previous exhibitions to present his photographs, using serial construction and repetition to create an archaic form of cinematic narration.

Slimaneʼs allusive portraiture, in which photographs, portraits, and still life compositions are often signs or fragments of a portrait, will be projected in a repetitive, almost ritual, manner. The installation will also address “performance act,” as defined for the first time in Slimaneʼs photographic essay, Stage (2004), and will include a live performance space underneath the projection.

Select California bands, such as No Age, will contribute to the installation, using a fragmentary sound system, and composing panoramic scores—extended, visual song formats—which will form a dialogue with and define a sonic vocabulary for the photographs.

The exhibition will reference Berlin Project (1999–2002), which was presented in 2003 at Kunst-Werke, Berlin, and MoMA PS1, New York, and is accompanied by the book Berlin (Steidl, 2003). It will also encompass The London Years (2003–2007) presented in 2004, 2006, and 2007 at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris; at Sprüth Magers Gallery, Munich, in 2005; at MUSAC, León, 2008; and referenced in Stage and London Birth of A Cult (Steidl) in 2005.

The California period began in July 2007, during Young American at Foam Amsterdam. In February 2011, Fragments Americana, an exhibition of Slimaneʼs photographs, was presented at Almine Rech Gallery in Brussels. At the same time, Almine Rech Gallery in Paris presented California Dreamin—Myths and Legends of Los Angeles, a group show curated by Slimane featuring artists John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Bruce Conner, John McCracken, Aaron Curry, Mark Grotjahn, Mark Hagen, Patrick Hill, Dennis Hopper, Mike Kelley, Joel Morrison, Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha, Sterling Ruby, Jim Shaw, Hedi Slimane, and Aaron Young, many of whom are included in the museumʼs permanent collection and have been presented in solo, retrospective, and large-scale thematic exhibitions at MOCA. Slimaneʼs book Anthology of a Decade, published March 2011 (JRP/Ringier), includes a photography essay dedicated to the California period.

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