France is a catholic country and photographer David LaChapelle is a very religious boy. In fact his uncle is a priest and his last name means chapel. Unfortunately I was unable to meet the Divine icon-maker when he touched down this week in Paris to inaugurate his largest show here to date, a retrospective featuring nearly 200 color-saturated works chock full of celebrities, cultural delirium, and religiosity on view at the Monnaie de Paris from February 6 through May 31. Earlier this week I attended Rome's Alta Moda: alas, LaChapelle and I passed like ships in the night.
But I did make the opening of his show at La Monnaie last night. LaChapelle's most recent work features glossy photos cut out and placed in perspective for a 3-D effect with colored lights. And these days he's more focused on the crazy disaster of real life than made for entertainment's glossy chaos. But I was disappointed to find so few people to talk at the show. The place was full of artsy fartsy Parisians—not a racy group to say the least. Where was Patti Wilson, the magical stylist on so many of LaChapelle's best fashion stories and portraits for i-D and Vanity Fair? Where was Amanda Lepore, LaChapelle's transmuse par excellence? Well Lepore is everywhere in the show, plump-lipped in LaChapelle's pastiche of Warhol's "Marilyn" silkscreens, or as a haunting Warholesque brunette Liz Taylor. By 8:00 the champagne had run down to a trickle and LaChapelle had yet to show. I traipsed down La Monnaie's marble staircase and loitered at the exit to find postcards. Everything was for sale looked very sober, including underwhelming black erasers with David LaChapelle written on them.
Above: Amanda as Andy Warhol's Marilyn, 2002.
Lachapelle in London. Photo by James Veysey/Retna.
Back home I googled LaChapelle in search of the latest. Lo and behlold I was able to piece together his world art tour and glean his spiritual message in these troubled times as we enter the second month of that fateful year, 2009. May the lord bless you and your camel toe, Paris Hilton! Lachapelle gave Paris one for his "Hi Bitch, Bye Bitch," portrait of her in a secondskin purple Lycra jumpsuit, escorted by two policemen.
David LaChapelle began his world tour earlier this week in another Catholic country—Mexico. Earlier this week, on February 3, he inauguarated—with Sister Lepore in tow—the exhibition "Delirium of Reason" (Delirois de Razon), a summary of 64 works created between 1995-2008, at Mexico City's Antiguo Colegio de San Idelfonso, which runs through mid-June. This is his first exhibition there. Sister Lepore, dressed for one of many photo ops in what appears to be a bathrobe (spirited away from her room at Mexico City's Hotel Genieve no doubt), provided cleavage and then some, reportedly putting the Mexican photographers into a state of ecstasy.
"It's very important to me to be able to communicate to people, and as the great muralists (like) Diego Rivera and the pop artists tried to communicate to the person on the street, not the handful of elitists, intellectuals, but to everybody," LaChapelle said during the press conference in Mexico. "The times we live in right now are extremely confusing and anxiety-causing and people look to contemporary art for enlightenment." LaChapelle said he was taking a hiatus on his 20-acre bio farm in Maui after walking off the set of a Madonna video he was working on ("It's a burden to have to work with these people," he huffed) when he got a call about doing the shows.
After the opening in Mexico, LaChapelle and Lepore celebrated the artist's more commercial oeuvre; a bottle design for Dos Equis cerveza. He put the beer's famoso double X's in shocking pink on the bottle, which comes in a special LaChapelle six-pack edition just in time for the Mexican leg of the exhibition sponsored by the lager-maker. LaChapelle barely had time to knock a few back with Lepore before he said ‘Adios.' This was a busy week and Paris was next on his menu.
Paris: all that gilt and history, the art and French lingerie. With sister Lepore and Mexico behind him, LaChapelle said in pre-show interviews in Paris, "I've grown up." LaChapelle was discovered 27 years ago by Andy Warhol, who published his series of anonymous nudes in Interview when, aged 19, he was still moonlighting as a waiter at Studio 54. Today, the baby-faced 45-year-old reports he's leaving the stars alone to concentrate on larger works like "Deluge," one of his huge murals featuring a sinking Caesars Palace sign in Las Vegas surrounded by various nudes (ranging from lumpy to plain to very well hung) cavorting amidst the wreckage in classical sculptural poses. We can drink to the end of it all wwith the pop of a LaChapelle champgane cork.
After a private visit to Rome's Sistine Chapel in 2006, LaChapelle began to interpret the scriptures and this show is more about Jesus and the Saints and less about Madonna and MTV. In an interview for Le Figaro's Valérie Duponchelle, LaChapelle said, "I'm looking for the innocence in things, the joy, the sexuality, the life force. It's true I photograph celebrities a lot. One day I felt that I had come to the end of my exploration of popular culture... La Pietà is the most celebrated representation of death in the history of art. I wanted to invent mine with Courtney Love as the Virgin Mary to attest to the death of a friend from a heroin overdose, but also to celebrate orgasm (la petite mort) and ecstasy. I only realized during the shoot the implicit reference to the suicide of her husband Kurt Cobain, but there's a child in the foreground and he symbolizes hope."
Scroll down a bit further in LaChapelle's current Paris timeline and you find his 2008 ad for Passionata, the French lingerie brand. The model in the clip, Isabeli Fontana, rides an ice sculpture rocking horse in her undies. As she rocks back and forth, the horse gradually melt until all that's left is a heart shaped puddle on the floor which she proceeds to lap like a cat and smear all over her body. It's the perfect LaChapelle image: clever, raunchy, stylish, garish, oddly innocent and way, way over the top. On February 10, Passionata will turn LaChapelle's show at La Monnaie into a backdrop for a fashion show of its itsy bitsy wares. Now that should pop!