Joel-Peter Witkin

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Paris Update Art Notes


Paris Update Joel Peter Witkin Poussin-in-hell

Joel-Peter Witkin’s “Poussin in Hell” (1999). © Joel-Peter Witkin. Courtesy Baudoin Lebon

Joel-Peter Witkin is not everyone’s cup of bile. Even those accustomed to his over-the-top, death-obsessed (some with real corpses for models) yet strangely beautiful and fascinating black-and-white photographs cannot help but feel sick when looking at some of them. One example: “Woman Once a Bird, Los Angeles” (1990), in which a naked woman, seen from the back, her waist painfully cinched by a wide metal belt, shows the deep, raw scars left by torn-off wings, while a few feathers still cling to her bald head. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s current exhibition, “Joel-Peter: Witkin: Heaven or Hell”pairs a retrospective of his images with his choice of engravings with mythological or Biblical themes by Goya, Rembrandt and

Paris Update Leda-Cornelis-Bos

“Léda” (after Michelangelo), a 16th-century etching by Cornelis Bos.

many others. The latter demonstrate that Witkin is not the first artist to take an interest in grotesquerie. The 72-year-old artist’s more recent work in this show seems less tormented than earlier pieces. The film about this surprisingly ordinary-looking, God-fearing guy at the end of the exhibition is worth watching. BNF Richelieu, 5 rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris. Métro: Bourse. Through July 1, 2012. Heidi Ellison


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