Byline: Kevin West
PARIS — Anyone familiar with the artistic antics of the YBAs — the young British artists pushed forward by Charles Saatchi in London — won’t be surprised to see a shocking image of nudity in a show of new works by Londoner Philippe Bradshaw. After all, YBAs Jake and Dinos Chapman came to the fore with sculptures featuring unnatural orifices and penile noses, while Tracey Emin has literally aired her dirty laundry in a public gallery.
The real surprise for a visitor at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris is that Bradshaw’s most explicit work is based on a 19th century French painting. Bradshaw has rendered Gustave Courbet’s famous gynecological nude, “L’Origine du Monde,” in the novel medium of anodized aluminum chains. The result is a pixilated, swaying curtain onto which he will project a video of himself, bouncing naked on a trampoline.
“That’s going to be projected on her fanny, really,” Bradshaw says with a laddish giggle. Bradshaw, whose family is French, seized on the idea of working with chains while on vacation in the south of France, where string curtains are hung across doorways to keep out flies. “It suddenly seemed like the right medium to do Fragonard’s ‘Swing,”‘ he recalls, “because it swings.” Bradshaw spent 2 1/2 years completing that work, a link-by-link likeness of Fragonard’s young belle in flight. In the current show, he uses the medium’s movement in a cheekier way. In his copy of the “Mona Lisa,” Bradshaw give his subject a nosebleed. When the chain curtain shivers, the blood appears to flow, says the artist. If Duchamp could give her a mustache, then why not?
Indeed, Bradshaw seems to have copying — or to use digital-age jargon, sampling — on his mind. The “Mona Lisa” is one panel of a group of ladies — there are also three copies of Andy Warhol’s copies of Leonardo’s original. (Bradshaw’s show makes an interesting counterpoint to “Les Annees Pop” now on view at the nearby Pompidou Center.)
“It’s already been copied,” he says of the Leonardo, “you have to do other copies. You copy it, mess around and make it even more spectacular.” Bradshaw explains that he likes to start with famous paintings — his other inspirations include Franz Hals’s “Laughing Cavalier” and Piet Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie” — because they have a post-card familiarity for many gallery-goers. A visitor’s mental picture of the original work adds yet another shimmering curtain between himself and the Louvre original.
Bradshaw suggests that the process is a way of making art history new again. He had originally intended to work exclusively with paintings from the Louvre — an incomparable but perhaps aspic-covered collection. But then the Mondrian suggested itself, and Bradshaw decided to reproduce a Hokusai woodblock print of Mount Fuji because of the impact such works had on 19th-century European artists. “Everyone is constantly drawing on others,” he explains, “constantly drawing things out.”
Compared with the tangled conceptual dustballs that cling to contemporary artworks such as Tracy Emin’s 1998 installation “My Bed,” Bradshaw’s sounds like a pat concept for an exhibition. But he claims that his work should invite less soul-searching than that of the other YBAs. He even insists he’s not one of that gang, even if he drinks with them socially.
“I like what they do,” he says, “but so much of me, aesthetically, doesn’t fit into the group. A lot of what I do is really beautiful. My work is not about gaining an insight into modern society. It’s more about enhancing modern society.”