Agnès Varda has always been a shape-shifter. First a still photographer, she became a filmmaker at age twenty-six, and then, over the past decade and a half, a gallery artist. Her serenely beautiful show at Blum & Poe gallery in New York (through April 15) is a hop-skip-jump retrospective of her photography and gallery art that opens with a series of eighteen vintage silver prints from 1954 and is anchored by three photographic self-portraits. Depicting Varda respectively in her youth, midlife, and old age, they differ in their collage techniques but show her sharp-eyed gaze and Joan of Arc bowl haircut poignantly unchanged over sixty years. Elsewhere in the exhibition, three meditative moving-image installations fulfill her succinct self-description—that she has transformed herself “from an old filmmaker into a young artist.”
At eighty-eight years old, Agnès Varda is still blossoming as an artist. Long known primarily as a filmmaker, a vocation she took up more than half a century ago, the French iconoclast is now in what she gleefully describes as her “third life,” a period in which her photography, video installation, and sculpture have finally gained international recognition. Last month, Varda visited New York for a revelatory new show at Blum & Poe gallery that spans over sixty years of her creative expression. The works on view highlight both her aesthetic versatility and her affinity for excavating the past to breathe new life into the present.
In Ulysse, a man and young boy, both naked, are captured on a rocky beach. The man has his back to the camera, the boy is half turned looking toward a dead goat in the extreme right foreground of the image. The photo suggests a layering of time: the man exists in the immediate present, the goat might have washed ashore out of the mythological past, the boy is caught uneasily between them. In the more strikingly homoerotic Nus dans les ruines, two naked men are posed on the site of a house that seems to have been abandoned mid-construction. One man is facing away from the camera, his relaxed stance belying the mesmerizing perfection of his back, buttocks, and legs. The other is seated in profile within an empty window frame. What could have been merely an exercise in composition—frames within frames—becomes an invitation to narrative. Are the men construction workers? Did Varda find them on the job? Why are they naked? Do they even know each other? What could be the story behind this photograph?
On Friday night, Kanye West unveiled a sculpture version of “Famous,” which featured the likenesses of such varied personalities as Anna Wintour, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Bill Cosby, and George Bush sprawled naked in bed together in an homage to artist @Vincent_Desiderio’s “Sleep,” at Blum & Poe. See more on wmag.com. Photo by Ron Ben.