Jean Clemmer Collaborations Salvador Dali/Paco Rabanne

The exhibition titled Jean Clemmer Collaborations Salvador Dali/Paco Rabanne was a special installation for Los Angeles Photography Week at the Robert Berman Gallery (2013) presented for the first time in America the creative partnerships between the photographer Jean Clemmer, the artist Salvador Dalí and the designer Paco Rabanne that began in the 1960’s. The works assemble this trinity of influence representing some of the most alluring photographic images of the decade encouraging what would soon become known as the sexual revolution while asserting Surrealism was a timeless school of thought. This body of work served as an important component in a mechanism that brought forth an incendiary upheaval of change.

The Swiss born photographer Jean Clemmer first began collaborating with the Surrealist master Salvador Dalí in 1962. Together they created tableaux vivants at Dalí’s home in Port Lligat along Spain’s Costa Brava as well as fashion spreads for magazines. Clemmer was the only photographer to document Dalí’s first and only solo directorial of the film Le Divin Dalí, that sadly was destroyed in a fire.

Both artist and photographer chose the designer Paco Rabanne, a mascot of this era of change, to dress their subjects. Dalí called Rabanne the “second greatest Spanish genius” and constantly sought Rabanne for the costumes of his photographic projects, performance and film projects. Dalí’s favorite models Amanda Lear, Elsa Peretti and Donyale Luna, were dressed in Rabanne’s dramatic creations which in part was documented in A Soft Self Portrait narrated by Orson Welles.

The mindset of the1960’s was catapulted by the success of the first moon landing and what was perceived as space travel’s unlimited potential. Rabanne encapsulated the spirit of this as he utilized the materials of space exploration that included rhoidoid, chain mail, phosphorescent plastic disks, aluminum, rubber, and plastic sheeting. These materials were sculpted into seductive works that highlighted the provocative aspects of the body and its sinuous contours of exposed flesh. Rabanne’s memes of space age futurism paired with provocation were embedded into history with his iconic costumes for Jane Fonda in Barbarella, as well as the gold-paneled dress he created for Francoise Hardy.

Clemmer, who had become one of the most noted erotic photographers of his day, moved forward with Rabanne on the project Canned Candies featuring female nudes modeling the jewelry and costumes of Rabanne. This project became the book Nues, embracing a fusion of the most influential aspects of the 1960’s; a fascination with futurism and sensuality. Nues manifested futurism’s sensibility of space travel as an exotica of metal, while sensuality and the sexual revolution it encouraged, was celebrated in the book’s uninhibited presentation of the female form.

However, what made the book Nues a true catalyst of its era was accomplished by its paradigm shift of the idealization of female beauty. Clemmer and Rabanne chose women of varying races personifying them equally in a new mythic stature.

In the 1974 Clemmer returned to his collaborative journey with Dali and created the Metamorphosis Series that layered transparencies of images upon the body of nude silhouettes. Dali first asked Clemmer to transform him into “an apparition” which Clemmer achieved by fusing the artist in a ghostly effect upon a nude silhouette. Other metamorphosis works which Clemmer referred to as “sandwiching” created a hybrid fusion of a female nude with the landscape of Dali’s home of Port Lligat and the ephemera that became sculpture which washed up from the seaside cove along the Costa Brava.

Dali also encouraged Clemmer to incorporate architecture into the female silhouette. This recalled the famous painting My Wife Nude Contemplating her own Flesh Becoming Stairs (1945) followed by the cover of Vogue the following year that constructed a visage from classical columns and eroding architectural surfaces.

The basis of this architectural inspiration for the Metamorphosis Series of Dali and Clemmer would be Dali’s Teatro Museo in his hometown of Figueres. This museum created in Dali’s hometown of Figueres erected the broadest collection of his work as a living theater museum. This Theater Museum was the first place Dali had exhibited as a child and he acquired it in the 60’s after years of lying waste from the bombardment of the Spanish Civil War.

Dali called it “the largest surrealistic object in the world” and today it is the second most visited museum in Spain next to the Prado. One of the most provocative sets of the Metamorphosis Series was a composition taken from sectors of Dali’s large canvas La Peche du Thon 1966-67 acquired by The Ricard Foundation. The painting represented a crescendo of Dali’s lifetime experiments in painting spanning pointillism, pompierism, action painting, tachisme, geometric abstraction, Pop, Op and psychedelic art and forty years of pictorial research along with his fascination with the sciences, myth, the classical tradition and cyclical and linear concept of time. Dali referred to the work also known as Tuna Fishing as “an allegory to the place where everything amongst the cosmos converges into a collective whole.”

The painting which took two summers at Port Lligat to complete reflected Dali’s will to express through panting the nature of physics and the discoveries of his friends Crick and Watson's concept of time. These influences which Dali sought to mythologize were archetypally represented by the most familiar scene of Dali’s home, the fisherman of Port Lligat.

The painting that was dedicated and inspired by the battle scenes of 19th century French painter Messonier, whom Dali recognized as one of many important influences. Dali wrote of the piece “I realized then that it is precisely this limitation, contraction, and limit to the cosmos and the universe which makes energy possible. Therefore, the protons, anti-protons, photons, pi-mesons, neutrons, all the elementary particles only possess this formidable hyperaesthetic energy because of these same limits and contractions of the universe. This, in a certain way, relieves us of the terrible anguish stemming from Pascal’s theory that human beings were insignificant beside the cosmos, and brings us back to the idea that all the cosmos and all the universe converge in one point, which, in the present case, is the Tuna-Fishing. This accounts for the terrifying energy in this picture! Because all these fish, all those tuna, all the human beings in the act of killing them, personify the limited universe. In other words, since the Dalinian cosmos is limited to the space in the tuna-fishing, all the elements acquire from it the maximum of hyperaesthetic energy. The Tuna-Fishing is, therefore, a biological spectacle par excellence since, according to my father’s description, the sea – which is cobalt blue and ends up being completely red with blood – is the superaesthetic force of modern biology. All births are preceded by a marvelous spurting of blood, blood is sweeter than honey. And it is to America in our era that the prerogative of blood belongs, since America’s honor is thanks to Watson, the Nobel Prize winner, who was the first to find the molecular structure of dioxyribonucleic acid, which, along with the atomic bomb, is for Dali the most hopeful future sign of afterlife and hibernation.”

A highlight of one of the Metamorphosis prints incorporated the triad of Clemmer, Dali and Rabanne portraying Dali’s signature from Tuna Fishing with a model in repose with a Rabanne chain mail dress. Jean Clemmer Collaborations Salvador Dali/Paco Rabanne will offer to the public the last signed photographs of the Jean Clemmer Estate. The exhibition will include for the first time new editions printed in a large format. The exhibition will also include new photographs uncovered in the Jean Clemmer Archive that will be seen for the first time.

'Jean Clemmer Collaborations Salvador Dalí / Paco Rabanne'

This exhibition is curated by Laura Whitcomb author of Dali the Paradox of Fashion with the aid of the Estate of Jean Clemmer via Hélène Heidsieck Clemmer and her husband Yann Heidsieck. It is made possible by the pleasant collaboration of the House Paco Rabanne.


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