curated by Vera Viselli

If the American contemporary art can be summed up in a name, that name is David LaChapelle: a photographer discovered and introduced to the world of art by Andy Warhol; a director awarded at Sundance Festival; in 2006, David LaChapelle offers his eyes and pays his attention at Italian historical painting and sculpture, Michelangelo’s works above all, and gains the concept of The Deluge, a monumental series settled for a kind of exhibition conceived not only for media but especially for museum. A sort of return to origin (his works have been exhibited at: The Musée D’Orsay of Paris, The Brooklyn Museum of New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Taipei, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The National Portrait Gallery of London, The Fotographfiska Museet of Stockholm and The National Portrait Gallery of Washington DC) made by the fusion of his post-Pop surrealism and the classical feature of Michelangelo’s works, a kind of art so tough and massive to bring LaChapelle to a decisive turning point in his production.

Till that moment, LaChapelle wanted to absorb in himself the spirit of the time: the spirit of the high-camp and exaggerated 80’s pop culture, trying to portray a decade which came between the past and the new millennium, always focusing on the observation and the representation of reality, sometimes going through surrealist-abstractist directions.

Guy Debord considered the spectacle as the essence of a society devoted to images, a form of representation where the experience went on and on further, disconnecting from each element of life and merging in a unicum¹. In LaChapelle’s works, this unicum matches the theatrical set and the movie frame, creating an absurd dream grabbed at ashtonishing sceneries; although, as the artist said: «although they were exaggerated fantasies, that was what happened in the world». Postmodern fiction² strongly appears in his photography, giving place to innovative combinations out of a linear temporal logic; narrative fragments intersect to result in visual short circuits and conflict of meanings: consequences of a society filled, saturated and bombarded with images.

According with the exhibition curator Gianni Mercurio, «LaChapelle, who looks at the news relevant to the way of living and social issues, draws on the history of images for understanding the trends of people’s culture»: the will of his gaze – critical, aesthetical and often oneiric – is directed to the present and to the humans who live in it, to the fluctuating and confusing reality, which brings no certainty but only fears and phantoms, those generated from the end of utopias, the crysis of faith and of the rational thought. This is the context where he puts and faces themes such as catastrophe and decay, illness, death and compassion: these themes creates a primordial force together with consumism and compulsive neurosis, absorbed in fetishisms and narcissistic obsessions. That’s The Deluge: the sublime which sets up through the flesh-instrument, borrowing the idea proper of the sacred painting of the Renaissance, the sublime which uses massive visual communication codes to spread spiritual themes and messages and makes them clear to everyone.

«Since I was a child Michelangelo has fascinated me», LaChapelle says, «looking at his works, one looks at the world. It’s not the world of art, it’s just the world, it is humankind». A kind of humanity that soon disappears as the artist himself: he pulls out of the show-business, turning his back on the consumed high society, choosing a different way of life on a savage island in the middle of Pacific. In his own words: he already said everything he wanted to say.

The body is removed. There was a malleable body which got used to the heightened comestic and consumistic practices, a body which was symbol of a shattered identity, not a subject anymore but just an object of analysis, nevertheless still anchored in reality. Now we only find a horrific simulacrum of it in the wax fragments of the Still Life series.

In After the Deluge: Museum, the image displays an empty hall of an overflowed museum: none contemplates art masterpieces anymore, the heritage suddenly looses its value and slowly sinks in a stretch of water which reflects its image and gives it back as an overturned double. Also the main characters of Awakened, linked to The Deluge series, are persons who float in the water: the apnea as a gateway, a transition which requires them to leave the body and then wake up in another dimension. The Still Life series, with its emblematic title, presents inanimate effigies instead of the real star system’s characters. Wax reproductions of Ronald Reagan, Cameron Diaz, Michael Jackson, Lady Diana, Theodore Roosevelt, Bono Vox and other celebrities (living and not) are broken down in pieces and then put together on cardboards, after an act of vandalism destroyed the already macabre simulacrum of each wax statue. A disturbing and hyperreal representation of bodies’ decay and frailty that reaches icons and their celebration; it’s way more unsettling if we think that several celebrities appearing in the series as wax pieces have been portrayed by LaChapelle in the past.

Among the latest works, the series Land Scape and Gas Stations stand out. Land Scape shows industrial plants towering as bright mirages in desertic horizons, with soft and colourful skies. Shining and stunning complexes, signs of a future metropolis, made by a team of cinematographic pattern makers which worked together with the artist to realize an incredible project assembling small items and recycled materials. plastic cups, curlers, egg boxes, battery chargers, straws, cans and container of different kinds. Models have been photographed by LaChapelle in the context of real landscapes such the Californian desert. The micro-world and the human-scale enviroment are two context compared with each other, which intersecting shapes an augmented reality: when two levels of reality merge into one image, reality becomes abstraction.

About Gas Stations, the idea focuses on the estranged effect of landscapes views where gas stations pop up alone among an overgrown tropical vegetation. Temples of the so called new american religion (the car myth), gas stations keep on emitting energy by neon signs, but they look like plants survived in a deserted planet, a set in a post-apocaliptic movie, where the human doesn’t have a leading role and no body appears.

After The Deluge series till today, according to Mercurio, LaChapelle came accross different steps in its works, following the idea that “the truth is the one shown by reason and not by senses. If one reads the image through senses, one has a dreamlike vision, which is moreover built up by the methods typical of Surrealism (decontextualisation and recontextualisation of details); if it is read by filtering it through the reason, one gets a picture that charges of reporting reality.

¹ G. Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Soul Bay press, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK, 2009

² «[…] postmodernist fiction is defined by its temporal disorder, its disregard of linear narrative, its mingling of fictional forms and its experiments with languages», B. Lewis, Kazuo Ishiguro, Manchester University Press, 2000

Cover: David LaChapelle, Museum, 2007 Chromogenic Print ©David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle, Riverside, 2013, Chromogenic Print ©David LaChapelle



In this section, there are works that define a turning point in LaChapelle artistic production: The Deluge (2006) describes the ruin of a society based on consumism but that still owns a chance of redemption; Museum (2007) and Statue (2007) where art is considered the higher expression of human creativity and it’s the last word about a lost perfection; Cathedral (2007) where we are hitten by the inexpressive face of a young girl among a group of praying and shocked believers. In the same section, the Awakeneds wake up in water.


The vanitas theme is celebrated in this section; vanitas is a leit motiv behind several LaChapelle’s artworks and here it’s highlighted referring to the Baroque iconography especially in the floreal still life. The section title is a quotation from Hamatreya, a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (American writer and philosopher lived in XIX century); the line gives an interpretation that redefines the concept of caducity: cut flowers, transience’s symbols, become an excessive and loud expression such as prank of nature.


Still life is the title of an unconventional photographic series LaChapelle realized to present an unsettling and macabre celebrities’ portraits gallery. The National Wax Museum of Dublin came under a devastating act of vandalism; after it, the photographer had the chance to shoot this series: celebrieties’ effigies lie dismembered on a cardboard background with a horrific effect. Last Supper is a work linked to these kind of portraits; here the macabre feature gives way to a decanted effect, sublimated through the reenactment of a masterpiece from the past: Leonardo’s Last Supper is recreated by a thirtheen photographies sequence. Each photo shows the head and the hands of each evangelical event’s character reproduced in wax.


Trascendental themes are explicit in the divine presence among everyday spaces; they are represented in the photographic series Jesus is My Homeboy, in works like Pietas and The Beatification series.

American Jesus is emblematic of this section: LaChapelle propose the image of the Renaissance Pietà – already recreated in Pieta with Courtney Love – with Virgin Marie holding Jesus, but replaces the mother figure with a young hippie Christ with an expired Michael Jackson in his arms.


In a future place and time, gas stations will be discovered as architectonical ruins of a lost world, like aztec temples or the Easter Island. Future cultures with different worries will wonder about those ruins’ meaning. Shot in the pluvial forests of Maui, the stations exemplify a kind of isolation that increases and it’s deeply rooted in our culture. Analog models in scale show human artefact’s imperfections, in the same way the artificial system to produce energy is defective. These photographies are not meant to teach anything, they don’t disapprove and don’t excuse. Gas stations just exist, they are what made our world possibile. The new approach will make our destiny.


Land Scape defines a new step in LaChapelle artistic research, drawing future horizons where the humanity disappears and metropolis are islands in the desert, cities converted in industrial plants in a non-stop activity.

A video documents the backstage of this photographic project showing that there is no digital manipulation or post-production realizing this amazing landscapes: each set is a model created by a team of professional specialized in scenic design, from Hollywood industry. A handcrafted work made with high precision assembling small recycled items and industrial products: plastic cups, curlers, egg boxes, battery chargers, straws, cans and various container. The models have been placed in the californian hills context and then have been shot at different time of the day, when the sky changes colour following the dawn or the night.


Aristocracy is the latest series of LaChapelle works. It relates to a vip class, a joke of the high society hanging between boredom and self-destruction; it represents the exhibitionist parabola of a snobbery that flows into an acrobatic performance and into a loss of meaning. Here, as in many LaChapelle works, chaos gets pink coloured and the conflict between the drama and its hyperreal gloss stucks in a seductive and caustic metaphor. Subjects’ movements and barrel rolls remind Italian Futurism aeropainting; at the same time, a dense and whirling atmosphere remembers Turner’s sublime tempests.


Negative Currency and The Crash are two complementary series realized in 2008, the year of the worst economic crysis of the whole history. Negative Currency points out the destroying effects of money; it had foreseen the disastrous events who brought to recession the worldwide economic system after the subprime crysis and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in USA. Both series (One Dollar Bills and Death and Disaster) recall Andy Warhol; differing from Warhol, LaChapelle’s banknotes undergo an effective blackout: they appear as a photographic negative that draws attention to the stock market’s downward trend, started from the USA currency. On the other hand, The Crashes are deprived of their original meaning – the censorship about death in a careless and hedonistic society – and now they get metaphorical significance and acquire a new plastic-aesthetic value.

David LaChapelle, After the Deluge
Palazzo delle Esposizioni, via Nazionale 194 – Roma
Curator: Gianni Mercurio
Calendar: April 30th – September 13th 2015


A cura di Gianni Mercurio, in collaborazione con Ida Parlavecchio
catalogo mostra, Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 30 aprile-13 settembre 2015
Giunti Arte mostre musei
Pages 240
Price € 42


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