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Elegance, by twenty photographers


Back straight, eyes cold and a little mysterious, posture of an inaccessible being, a simple cut, noble materials, attention to detail, spotless, discreet accessories – when you talk about elegance, you think instantly of feminine fashion  , or of those who know how to wear it. Elegance is an enigmatic notion, a little like the soul. Everybody talks about it but nobody can describe it, simply, scientifically. And yet, the fashion magazines are produced to teach it, like a subject at school. You can smooth out the wrinkles, learn how to walk with a straight back, buy the most beautiful clothes – and yet the elegance is not there! This quality that is so revered cannot be explained, it’s an internal melody, simple and sophisticated at the same time.

The exhibition currently on at the Russiantearoom in Paris is a case study, a lyrical survey, a walk in a luxury boutique, where you can allow yourself to brush against the hanging garments, to feel them, not going any further not buying them.

Speaking of elegance, it seems to me that photography is the favoured medium. What is better than photography to capture the pose, the attitude, the spirit, visible or hidden. Photography remains the medium of the moment, and therefore of sincerity where any artifice is all the more visible, in relief. “Without elegance of the heart, there is no elegance”: Yves Saint-Laurent’s words give free hand to photography . So, with its help, and design’s discreet little interventions, let’s try to understand elegance.

In the first place, what is surprising is a certain “rigidity” of the subjects, animated or not: The women are fixed in a pose in the same way as a forgotten cabbage on a bench or Alexander Semenov’s jellyfish floating in water at less than 1 degree, it’s a parade of charm and grace. They say that a person can be elegant independently of their social status, that elegance is not only reserved to the privileged few.

The artists shown by Russiantearoom treat elegance in different ways. What brings them together is a fragile poetry, as with Pavel Banka where the most trivial objects dress beautiful faces and bodies, and elegance flows through these compositions; or as with Philippe Tarabella, a Parisian stroller, lover of the unexpected. By their expressions, some look at the world with tender humour, as in the picture by Sergey Maximishin, one of the most important Russian photo-reporters with his new-born provincial  businessmen, or his real Muscovite businessmen in a  Rodin pose in a sauna. And the sublime watercolours by the young Nicolas Tolmachev, still studying at the Beaux Arts de Paris, who easily couples an XVIII century  beauty  with an extra-terrestrial beast.

The official portraits of Coco Chanel and Marlene Dietrich, taken by the famous 1930s photographer Roger Schall, showing them as they were – icons of style –next to the fine, ironic work by the Japanese photographer Shunsuke Ohno, who goes back to the fashion shots, re-photographing them under different lighting and re-framing them, thus changing the image’s original balance and its message. And Laurent Fievet’s video work, a montage from a short sequence of a classic Hollywood film, somewhere half way between admiration for the beauty of such smooth construction and the discreet irony in front of the canons of a product.

In the Katerina Belkina’s photographs, winner of the latest Hasselblad Masters, you plunge into the beautiful coldness of the Flemish masters and their classical composition (elegance assured!), which serves as a way of talking about the modern woman’s daily life. In contrast to these purified shots, Antanas Sutkus’ Lithuanians, from the Soviet era, protect their elegant dignity under all circumstances wearing it like a resistance to the regime. A small jump in time… and here are the vestiges of the same regime: the sculptures, once everywhere in the past, degrading in front of Igor Mouhkin’s lens, who succeeds in capturing what is left of the famous pride of the victors. Who converse with the living and sculptural muscular bodies of dancers from the Marlinsky, by Evgeny Mokhorev , who use the classical poses to explain the basis of ballet (which was, in the beginning, exclusively masculine).The simplicity of their gestures rhymes with the purity of Vadim Gushchin’s well-ordered books, and you can almost hear the music as the dust settles on them.

Intemporel Livre, tout russe se souvient de la fameuse sentence de Boulgakov – « les manuscrits ne brulent pas » – nous ouvre la porte vers l’éternité. Que quelques artistes traitent comme la modernité, urgente. Oleg DOU, et ses portraits-masques de beauté, irréprochables et sans âme. Olga Fedorova, auteur des mondes synthétiques, fruits de son imagination, de ses observations et de ses rêves. Ou encore Dmitry Sokolenko, en poète-mathématicien, condense l’univers en champs sémantiques, en images. Paris Hilton, l’icône d’anti-élégance, est résumée en deux demi-cercles, eux, assez élégants…Les lignes qui rejoignent les courbes des nus d’Anna Danilova et des paysages d’Ilan Weiss. Ainsi cette exposition souhaite t-elle parler d’élégance, des sujets, des œuvres, mais également de l’élégance du geste de l’artiste, qui recadrant le Cosmos, coupe l’inutile, le vain, et tente de s’approcher de l’ultime élégance – l’immortalité… 

Timeless Book, every Russian remembers Bulgakov’s famous sentence – “The manuscripts don’t burn” – opens a door to eternity for us. That some artists treat as modernity, urgent. Oleg Dou, and his beauty-mask portraits, irreproachable and soulless. Olga Fedorova, creator of synthetic worlds, fruits of her imagination, her observations and her dreams. Or even Dmitry Skalenko, as a poet-mathematician condenses the universe into semantic fields, in pictures. Paris Hilton, the icon of anti-elegance, is summarised in two semicircles, themselves, elegant enough… The lines that join the curves of Anna Danilova’s nudes and Ilan Weiss’ landscapes. So this exhibition wants to talk about elegance, the subjects, the works, but also the elegance of the artist’s gesture, that reframes the cosmos, cuts out the useless, the vain, and attempts to approach the ultimate elegance… immortality…

Liza Fetissova


From 19th January to 11th March 2017
Galerie Russiantearoom
74 Rue Joseph de Maistre
75018 Paris

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