PARIS — “We can’t ignore that we’re all very attracted by adolescence,” said designer Raf Simons, who has just co-curated an exhibit — “The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes” —that examined the teenage psyche through a panoply of art, fashion and music.
The monthlong show finished Sunday at Pitti Imagine in Florence. Even more interesting, though, is the accompanying catalog published by Edizioni Charta and, here, by Distributed Art Publishers Inc., in April.
Simons collaborated with Francesco Bonami, head curator of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, who also will curate this year’s Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition. In nonfashion-style, though, their names are almost invisible in the catalog, except for a tiny mention on the first page.
The photos in “The Fourth Sex” are an encyclopedia of the last 40 years, from the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Sock Monkey to Marilyn Manson and a news photo of gun-toting “Women of the I.R.A.” The contents range from romantic to pornographic to iconic: images of Véronique Branquinho’s fashion; a gut-wrenching Jake and Dinos Chapman sculpture; advertising campaigns like Stüssy and Fiorucci; lyrics from songs by the likes of Britney Spears and Lou Reed, and stills from such films as “Blue Velvet,” “Heathers,” and “Carrie.”
Simons said the diverse selection represents the mercurial, far-flung and difficult-to-understand teenage temperament.
But the exhibit and book also portray adolescence as more than a period of a young person’s life between 12 and 20 years of age.
“We wanted to represent it more generally as a state of mind,” said Bonami. “Granted, adolescence is a specific mental and sexual state. But we also think adolescence is about breaking rules.”
Nevertheless, Bonami insists that the teenage mind continues to defy characterization — even as marketers and advertising executives try to tap into its desires and capitalize on its spending power.
“Marketers and advertisers look at adolescence as a laboratory to produce consumers,” said Bonami. “But that’s an impossibility. Marketing depends on finding a static equilibrium. And the adolescent mind is moving and in flux. When you understand it, it’s already too late. It’s already moved on to something new.”