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Nues - Exposed

Retouched photographs, 1991-1994

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Series of 24 retouched and re-photographed photographs, barite paper prints, 14 X 24 cm each

Fonds National d’Art Contemporain collection.
Shown among others by Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Antwerp, at the gallery Arndt and Partner, Berlin, at the Rencontres photographiques d’Arles 1995 (curator Michel Nuridsany), at the exhibition Transit, ENSBA Paris 1997, and recently at the exhibition Des images comme des oiseaux (Friche de la Belle de Mai, Marseille 2013), curator Patrick Tosani, associated artist Pierre Giner.

Jakob Gautel once called himself a "counterfeiter and visual impostor". In the series Nues, the female film stars have indeed been victims of an imposture. And as to the poor admirers of these modern godesses’ eternal glamour, they are the victims who have been taken in by Gautel, the counterfeiter.

Nues is a portrait gallery of stars, corresponding to the esthetic canons of the vamp as they had been defined by the film industry’s star system during its golden age: the bewitching eyes, lecherous mouth, provocative attitude, generous bust … But these are quite unique portraits, as each one has had a special treatment: an essential element of their seduction, their hair, has been taken away. The erotic power of hair has quite simply been eradicated. Marilyn, Ava, Brigitte, Marlene, and Greta have all been shaven, « cropped » by the artist.

At a time when the digital retouching of images is so easily and frequently used, Jakob Gautel chose the traditional technique (which is fast-disappearing) of manual retouching with brush and airbrush, and then re-photographed the images. The retouch, a technique that was, at the time that the original photograph was taken, an obligatory process for the embellishment of the image, along with other artifical devices, such as make-up and lighting. Jakob Gautel inverts the procedure by applying it, through a negative process, to the hairstyle. He is thus reusing the artifacts of this « giant sexual fetichisation machine » (Gérard Lenne) that is cinema. The result is spectacular, and we understand John’s astonishment (the photo of Greta and John closes the series) as he looks at the bald-headed temptress, Greta.

Since Claude Cahin, the shaven head has become a symbol of the refusal of the beauty canons imposed by men, but then on a woman it also reminds us of far less glorious episodes in history. Yet, today, from fashion to cinema, the troubling figure of the androgynous has imposed itself. Defeminized, these great erotic myths mute into dream machines, figureheads of a new and third kind of esthetic.

Pascal Beausse, in the catalogue of the exhibition Transit. 60 artistes nés après 60 / œuvres du Fonds National d’art contemporain, Paris, 1997.

- CNAP collection, Fonds National d’Art Contemporain

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