Born in Paris, Michel Journiac (1935-1995) is one of the inventors of body art. His poetic and subversive work contains a critical reflection on social mores through a practice of performance and photography. Bursting spectacularly and provocatively into the art world with his Messe pour un corps (1969), Journiac distributed fake Hosts made from black pudding mixed with his own blood. His works and actions aimed to reverse the rituals conditioning bodies into objects, moulded at will by society. Cross-dressing became a way for him to question the identity, rituals and codes that condition bodies and individuals. In 1974, he disguised himself as a woman for a day in order to experience life and accomplish his daily tasks and activities as the opposite sex. 24 heures de la vie d’une femme ordinaire makes innovative use of the photographic image. Divided into two sub-series, Réalités and Phantasmes, the work displays a “photographic action” by playing with the aesthetics of the photo-novel. The first series depicts a “bourgeois woman” who attempts to emancipate herself through work, all the while constraining herself to household chores. The second shows the fantasies - dreams or nigtmares - that this ordinary woman can cultivate within the intimacy of her daily life. Parodying the clichés conveyed by magazines, TV and film, Journiac overplays these banal, stereotypical gestures, caricaturing the role of women in the 1970s, still enslaved to the home and their husband. More than a cross-dressing parody, Michel Journiac constructs a transgender image, a manifesto for a body challenging norms and highlighting a spectrum of beauty that runs from the prostitute to the housewife.
Martha Wilson (b. 1947) is a feminist artist from New York. A pioneer of performance art, in the 1970s, she lent her body, transformed by make-up, to a gallery of subversive characters. Staging herself in her photographs and videos, she borrowed identities to question the models imposed on women. In 1976, she created DISBAND, a group of New York female artists active from 1978 to 1982, who produced music by shouting and stamping on the ground, blurring the line between concert and performance. What do women want? Or more precisely, how does society shape what they want? Martha Wilson examines the way women are supposed to appear in the public sphere and how these conventions are learned.
In the series “Posturing” and “Posturing: Age Transformation” (1972-1973), she experiments with subjectivities other than her own by embodying galleries of characters grappling with gender and age stereotypes. Collections of “personality experiences”, they deliver portraits of herself as another trying to be what she is: a woman trying to feel like a man trying to look like a woman or “a twenty-five year old woman trying to look like a fifty-year-old woman trying to look like she’s twenty-five.” “A Portfolio of Models” (1974) is an ensemble of six black and white photos, representing The Housewife, The Goddess, The Working Girl, The Professional, The Lesbian, and The Earth-Mother: “These are the models society holds out to me. […] All that’s left to do is be an artist.” Martha Wilson’s work is featured in the collections of museums like MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim in New York.
Sherrie Levine (b. 1947) is one of the figures of the “Pictures Generation”. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this movement was characterized by the practices of appropriation and reusing images, thereby taking a critical stance in terms of authorship and art market values. Claiming existing photographs, paintings and sculptures as her own, Levine moved away from personal creation to question assumptions of uniqueness, authenticity and originality, the basis for the monetization of a work of art, and factors influencing its market value. Exhibiting drawings on graph paper and noticing the interest shown by visitors in the line rather than the idea, she abandoned a medium whose power of seduction “diverts from what art can accomplish best”. Turning to photography, she began producing series entitled “After” followed by the name of the artist used, claiming the loan as a creative mode. The word “after” also reveals the anxiety of arriving too late, after discoveries and revolutions. A feminist, Levine only reproduces works by male artists in an effort to both denounce and thwart the male domination of art, founded on the idea of authority and genius. In 1980, she said: “I hope that in my photographs of photographs an uneasy peace will be made between my attraction to the ideals these pictures exemplify and my desire to have no ideals or fetters whatsoever.” In 1981, her series “After Walker Evans”, consisting of twenty-two shots taken between 1935 and 1938, reactivated the visual power of the original. The same can be said for the eighteen prints of “After August Sander”, dating from 2012, reinventing photographs of portraits by the German artist.
Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) lives and works in New York. She started her career in painting, before finding her preferred mode of expression in photography. Her photographic series, “Untitled Film Stills”, from 1977, features her in the style of celebrity snapshots from the 1950s and 1960s, playing on the archetype of the femme fatale. Comprising sixty-nine images and almost as many characters, the ensemble questions the female stereotypes conveyed by and for men. A housewife with prominent breasts, a student or bookseller reaching for a book, a shadowy-looking woman lighting a cigarette dangling from her lips, a lone hitch-hiker ... Despite the wide palette, in each image, the woman nevertheless appears as a sexual object. Borrowing from the aesthetics of “film stills”—photographs taken on the set of a film—, these works isolate the woman who appears as an icon before the male gaze. Reusing the aesthetic of black and white cinema, Sherman employs stylistic references from Italian neo-realism, Hitchcock, and American B-movies, etc. Both model and photographer, subject and object, the artist establishes a distance with the representation, allowing us to see in each scene, the macho gaze that created it. Through the use of make-up and costumes, she gives shape to a dark human comedy that strikingly reveals the construction of identities.
Born in 1949, American artist Richard Prince is known for rephotographing commercial images from mass media, advertising and the entertainment industry in the 1970s. He redefined the concepts of fatherhood, success and the “mythification” of the work of art. His drawings, paintings, photographs and installations explore the role that subcultures and vernaculars play in defining American identity. Through an approach imbued with irony, the artist collects and recounts the myths and symbols that feed the American imagination: women with bare breasts perched on Harley Davidsons and Hollywood pin-ups in vintage cars, coming from comics inspired by Playboy or The New Yorker to the seductive, albeit disturbing nurses in smocks and caps from the “Nurse” series. Furthermore, Richard Prince appropriated the advertising campaign of an iconic brand of cigarettes from the 1960s, featuring a virile cowboy, master of all he surveys. This rephotograph of an advertising photograph becomes a separate work in its own right, in an effort to dissect the American Dream.
Born in 1947, Louise Lawler began her career by photographing portraits of other artists’ work. For her first official New-York gallery exhibition in 1978 however, she simply exhibited a painting of a horse, a painting dating from 1883. By transposing another artist’s work into a gallery context, Lawler attempted to question the economic and social dynamics that determine the status of an artwork and its trajectory. Showing works in an exhibition context, her photographer’s gaze plays with the idea of added value through framing, ownership and reproduction. Her approach is connected to Simulationism, an art movement of which she is one of the leading figures, along with Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons. The “Helms Amendment” series (1989) is her response to the United States Senate vote in favour of an amendment, which in 1987 saw the refusal of funding for AIDS education, information and prevention materials, under the pretext of encouraging homosexuality.