Written by Fiona Hayes (@theartdictator)
“You know that film Being John Malkovich? Going to an artist’s studio is like that, like walking around inside someone’s brain,” says Pharrell Williams at the press preview of the exhibition he's curated at Galerie Perrotin, titled “G I R L" (open May 27 - June 25 at the Salle de Bal, a former ballroom at the Hôtel du Grand Veneur). The multi-talented singer/writer/producer/rapper/designer explained how he got inspired to celebrate "images of women and of love, viewed from a variety of angles," while fielding questions about his career as a whole. (“Are you going to be an actor next?” asked one reporter. Pharrell claims he is not.)
Showing 40 pieces from 32 artists, including 10 specially commissioned for the exhibition, "G I R L" is billed as “An Ode to Otherness”. Pharrell says, "Just like my album [G I R L], what I tried to do is offer many different facets of my appreciation for women…I love women everywhere. I make no apologies for the wide spectrum of affinity for women.”
He also made no apologies for including Terry Richardson as a contributing artist, whose photograph in the exhibition shows a nude girl’s thighs with a strategically placed piece of candy that says “Eat Me.” The controversial fashion and celebrity photographer shot Pharrell and his wife Helen Lasichanh for two new pieces by Takashi Murakami, which are perhaps the prettiest and most heart-warming pieces in the show. “We wanted to spark conversation,“ says Pharrell firmly, “not controversy.”
But any exhibition is spiced up by a little controversy, and this one has the Guerrilla Girls in a room of their own, where Pharrell made a special stop to be photographed en route to the press conference, certainly as a special gesture of support. One of the Guerrilla Girls pieces, Bus Companies Are More Enlightened Than Art Galleries, has been updated with the words: "Artists given one-person exhibitions @ Galerie Perrotin Paris 2010 to 2014: 13%." Pharrell’s friend, the gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin who gave him the platform for the exhibition, clearly has no qualms about being challenged in his own gallery space.
Perrotin has been responsible for introducing Pharrell to his roster of top-notch artists since they met in 2007, and, unsurprisingly, he represents several of the artists in this show. Jean-Michel Othoniel, a French sculptor who makes massive glass pieces, was asked to contribute an existing work, Emerald Double Necklace (representing female sensuality), which dominates the main gallery space. Othoniel has met Pharrell through Perrotin “several times,” and though he wouldn’t call him a friend—“How can you be friends with someone who is so big?!” he says—he is very enthusiastic about Pharrell’s work and his “aura." He says, “Pharrell is almost androgynous, you know? His aura is optimistic for the world!”
Other artists created works specially for "G I R L," such as Laurent Grasso’s Studies into the past (Single Cover of “Lost Queen”.) Grasso’s original series of Studies into the past paintings were made in 2009, and recently he has concentrated more on light works and installations. However, for this show, he revisited his former style and painted Pharrell—at his request—as Napoleon, alone on horseback before a colossal statue of an Egyptian queen.
If the exhibition has one flaw, it is that the work of several of the women artists appears more jarring than and out of place from the rest of the more "agreeable" works in the show. Cindy Sherman, Yoko Ono, and Marina Abramovic seem to have been an after-thought, with their serious pieces feeling disconnected from the overall tone of "G I R L."
Several of the works appear to be more of an homage to Pharrell’s appreciation of women than to women themselves. The Japanese artist Mr. and the American artist Rob Pruitt have created, respectively, a painting of Pharrell with the word “GIRLS” on it, and a sofa, Studio Loveseat, which riff on Pharrell’s image over the years.
Neither Mr. nor Rob Pruitt's pieces, however, are quite as tangential as Daniel Arsham’s The Future Pharrell, a glass and resin life-size statue for which Pharrell had to pose—unmoving and breathing through a straw—for hours. ("How does it feel to be a work of art, Pharrell?" "Weird!") It’s a very cool statue, though how it fits into the theme of "G I R L" is hard to figure. The piece came out of a collaboration between Arsham and Pharrell to create art objects (originally a Casio MT-500 keyboard) out of volcanic ash and shattered crystal. In a conversation in The New York Times last year, Arsham said to Pharrell, “I’m definitely going to throw you in that plaster mould one day”—et voilà.
The last word goes to the curator, who quoted Jeff Koons; Pharrell said, “The art is only the beginning. The real art is peoples’ interaction with the piece.” Given the number of Instagrams today, showing people posing next to The Future Pharrell, I’d say that despite the exhibition's less cohesive moments, interaction is not going to be a problem.