Oh, sweet nothing - Helmut Newton at Grand Palais, Paris
(Paris.) This is the second exhibition actually showing in Grand Palais event centre, and in only three weeks time there will additionally be Monumenta.
First thing to notice upon arrival is how the opening days' queue significantly ebbed away and that in the bookshop right at the entrance a collection of Newton's Playboy works is reduced from forty Euros to twenty - looks like despite all publicity this exhibition is not a big hit. Which may be due to the limited extents, it only occupies three rooms, even if you thoroughly contemplate each work, you are not likely to spend more than thirty minutes in here.
For once it is allowed to take photos in the location, which is extraordinary, but to be explained with the character of the works exposed, most of them originally created for publicity campaigns. The copyright holders are still interested in getting them around (though at Grand Palais, I still would not wonder about an interdiction, they need to sell their catalogues...)
Helmut Neustädter did never define himself as an artist, and indeed his photographs mostly are somewhere in-between. This is fashion photography at its best and worst, even where there is no fashion in the picture - his nudes are just too glossy, too clean for any eroticism involved. The models appear completely lifeless, Newton's Big Nudes stand in line with antique marble sculptures. This is their exact position in art history: Shiny goddesses to put in your garden, not your bed.
In this exhibition I finally realised what I do not like about fashion photography, no matter who took the pictures: if you ask some pretty face with no brain, no acting talent or education whatsoever to perform a distinct pose, to put on a "meaningful" expression, the result will just be hilarious. When supposed to transport a whole story in one look even Shakespeare actors have to struggle to make you believe and not laugh - this is the very secret of acting after all.
With an amateur you get theatricality in the most negative sense; sometimes it is just awfully funny to watch these poor models (who certainly gave their very best). There are some interesting works, though. In one 1970s campaign (do not ask me for whom) Newton arranged big women with tiny monkeys, if you drew a connection to same-era Crumb comics, go ahead, the ads for MAM's Crumb retrospective are hanging from every wall in the city (more about it soon). And to tie the current GP shows even closer together, we also find a woman halfway eaten by a (plastic) alligator (for Pina Bausch balletts) and former French Nationalists leader Jean-Marie Le Pen surrounded by his Dobermans (for Pedigree Pal?). All in all this is an exhibition to visit when you have some twenty minutes to spend and found no leaflets in your mailbox this morning.
Grand Palais - Galerie Sud-Est. 1 Avenue Géneral Eisenhower 75008 Paris, France.
From March 24 – July 30, 2012