How the art of bling reflects reality | Arts | DW | 23.11.2016
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How the art of bling reflects reality

More is more: this motto has driven a new generation of photographers to ironically portray worlds of tinsel, glitter and luxury. A new exhibition in Dusseldorf, "Bling Bling Baby!," features their dazzling work.

Those who decide to visit the exhibition "Bling Bling Baby!" at the NRW-Forum in Dusseldorf shouldn't be averse to kitsch. The photographs on show highlight oversaturated colors, shrill contrasts and surreal motifs.

But nonetheless, the images appear to comment on current events: highly stylized scenes created by star photographers such as Pierre et Gilles or David LaChapelle closely resemble some of the pictures from Donald Trump's private life, for example of his wife Melania in a silk negligee having breakfast at the golden table in their Trump Tower penthouse, with a huge window in the background offering a breathtaking view on Central Park. Gold - lots of it - covers the walls and furniture.

Dark scenes in neon colors

There is a difference, however, when LaChapelle stages a half-naked Naomi Campbell and a perfect sleeping Adonis. At first glance, he appears to be showing beautiful people luxuriously enjoying life in paradise. But a closer look reveals the "angels" that typically play a part of such scenes are actually child soldiers carrying weapons, and that the hole in the wall behind the lounging models was the result of an explosion.

Exhibition 'Bling, Bling Baby' at the NRW-Forum in Dusseldorf (NRW Forum/Matt Henry)

It's not Donald Trump's house, but rather an imaginary bathroom created by Matt Henry

LaChapelle is not the only photographer to wrap dismal imaginary scenes in cheerful colors. Matt Henry, from Wales, also celebrates kitsch, buying US lifestyle accessories on eBay and using them to create his photos. Nothing is what it appears to be; everything is fake. Even the woman in the bubble bath only exists in Henry's works. That's what makes his pictures so fascinating; their shrillness is reminiscent of the surreal universe of US filmmaker David Lynch.

Among the international photographers working with such contrasts and exaggerations is Martin Schoeller, who was born in Frankfurt and now lives in the US. His portraits highlight the masquerade of beauty and glamour. In one image, actor Michael Douglas appears badly beaten - the effect was created with purple eye shadow. 

In his portrait of Jeff Koons, Schoeller added a few more layers of makeup. The face of Koons, renowned for his own kitsch sculptures, is covered with white paint, while his head is crowned with flowers.

Bildergalerie | Ausstellung Bling, Bling Baby des NRW-Forum (M. Schreiber)

Mike Schreiber's portrait of rapper B.G. in 2007

Desire for luxury

"Bling Bling," a hit single from 1999 by New Orleans rapper B.G., celebrates the world's fascination for luxury - gold Rolex watches, huge TV sets, expensive jewelry and extravagant yachts.

The song contributed to the popularity of the hip-hop expression "bling bling," which has since been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

With its exhibition, on show until January 15, the NRW-Forum in Dusseldorf is revisiting the bling of art, with many works exploring the luxurious and glamorous aspects of reality. However, "they aren't documentary photos," said curator Nadine Barth.

They all play with illusions and exaggerated opulence - revealing, along the way, some actual truths about the ego of the photographers.

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