Much like predecessors Rainer Fassbinder, George Kuchar and Tom Wesselmann, Franceso Vezzoli grew up around the golden ages cinema and television, and his work often toys at fusing their higher art forms with a violent appreciation for popular culture in very different ways. It’s these interests that dominate his show Cinema Vezzoli,currently on view at MOCA in Los Angeles, part of the three museum retrospective of Vezzoli’s work, titled The Trilogy.
Francesco Vezzoli, A Love Triolgy: Self-Portrait with Marisa Berenson as Edith Piaf (1999), via MoCA
Cinema Vezzoli spans a fifteen-year body of work, attempting to deconstruct mass-communication through what Senior Curator Alma Luiz calls “the cultural fabric” of Los Angeles. This slight pun of course refers to Vezzoli’s own practice, which combines performance modes with embroidery and needlework. At a certain point in the work, the audience reaches a point of clarity, and Vezzoli achieves something like escapism, in that it’s all too much of the same thing, with slight aesthetic variations on the tear placement and color palettes between pieces such as Crying Divas from the Screenplays of an Embroiderer I, II, and III (1999), and the literal, star-shaped framed portraits of Audrey Hepburn and Spencer Tracey.
On close inspection of the embroidered works, in particular a series of Joan Crawford which are stitched together to create a moire-like hologram of subtle facial movements, Vezzoli’s craftsmanship and meticulous care is astounding. In Sono come tu mi vuo (2007), the artist recreates a still from the opening credit sequence featuring Greta Garbo, from As You Desire Me (George Fitzmaurice, 1932). The tapestry is the true aspect ratio of the 16:9 widescreen film, complete with sewn letterbox. Upon closer examination of the piece, the artist has preserved the focal length of the moment, as the black, white and gray abstractions become more apparent as the viewer moves closer. The piece is on loan from the Prada Collection, Milan.
In the center of the exhibition is a viewing space dedicated to Vezzoli’s previous video work, including a trailer for the fictional concept-adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Caligula. Entitled Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula (2005), the piece is resplendent with cameos by the author, the artist in the titular role, Courtney Love, and jockstraps, bedsheets and jewelry provided by Donatella Versace. Also on view is a trailer for All About Annie (2006) with Anni Albers opposite Marlene Dietrich, in an embellished homage to the Maximilian Schell 1984 documentary, Marlene I. In this work, the artist attempts to justify his own needlework through drag. Another view features a Hollywood Story television show-parody “documenting” the previous videos with unreliable commentary provided by hired actors playing critics, gallerists and close friends.
The red theater seats, acquired from a now-demolished theater in Santa Barbara, and which are stationed throughout the show seem an obvious reference. It can be difficult to parse out the exact intention of the exhibition; a nostalgia tour of narratives celebrating celebrity does not appear to tackle any new territory. While the claim made by Vezzoli that those who do not at least appreciate his work, “don’t understand the joke,” is certainly defensible, the development in his consistent themes suggest something else entirely. Vezzoli maintains notions of consumer culture, even going so far as to relish in them himself. His struggles with the un-realized PS1 Church of Vezzolli exhibition not withstanding, Cinema Vezzoli comes off as an elaborate locker shrine to mythology.
Francesco Vezzoli, UNTITLED (Audrey Hepburn) (2006), via MoCA
Cinema Vezzoli [MoCA]