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Madonna and Tamara de Lempicka

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Madonna is renowned for being an avid art collector. Her personal collection, reported to be worth £80 million, includes works by Picasso, Hopper, Kahlo, Léger, Dali, Man Ray, and Damien Hirst. During the early eighties as a struggling dancer in New York, she was friends with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and had a relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat. (Famously, Warhol wrote in his diaries that his attendance at Madonna’s wedding to Sean Penn was “just the most exciting weekend of my life”). She presented the Turner Prize in 2001 to minimalist artist Martin Creed and also invited Tracey Emin to her Ashcombe residence for tea. Her last album, the greatest hits collection Celebration, featured a portrait by graffiti artist Mr Brainwash. And only this week Madonna was photographed at a launch event for a new partnership between MoMa and Volkswagen.


Madonna isn’t just another vanity collector – she has also been inspired by the work of artists throughout her career. As master of the image, her impeccable good taste has seen her reference a wide range of artists in many of her best known works; the photographers Horst P. Horst (Vogue) and Guy Bourdin (Hollywood), conceptual artist Cindy Sherman (Sex book), surrealist painters Dali, Leonor Fini, Remedios Varo and portraitist Lucien Freud (Bedtime Story), Andy Warhol (Deeper and Deeper) and illustrator Eric Stanton (Human Nature). Her lavish and complicated tours have all been informed by the aesthetics she has gleaned from art and as a result the work she produces has attained longevity and gravitas far behind its ‘pop’ status.

But there is one artist Madonna has particularly championed and whose paintings have had the most significant influence on her work – Tamara de Lempicka. Madonna started to collect de Lempicka paintings in the eighties, shrewdly anticipating the artist’s renaissance when prices in the art market sharply increased. Madonna is known to have bought many paintings by de Lempicka but the ones we know of for certain are Andromeda (1929), Nana de Herrera (1928), Nude with Dove (1928), and Femme a Guitar (1929) which are currently housed in her New York apartment. These paintings are frequently borrowed to galleries during retrospectives of the artist’s work featuring a small placard with Madonna’s name.





It could be reasonably argued that Madonna has helped significantly rehabilitate de Lempicka’s reputation, turning her into a highly collectible artist by borrowing heavily from her idiosyncratic aesthetic. In the very opening scene of the Open Your Heart (1987) music video, directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, an old style peep-show features a large reproduction of the painting Andromeda with her breasts lit up by giant bulbs and a reproduction of La Bella Raphaela placed just below it. Inside the peep-show carousel Madonna dances on a stage with several booths featuring reproductions of male portraits by de Lempicka cut out against green backgrounds. Chiming with the era most associated with de Lempicka, the video pays homage to Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel (1930), Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946), and Liza Minelli in Cabaret (1972).




But it’s the videos for Express Yourself (1989) and Vogue (1990) that Madonna and director David Fincher most successfully combine their vision with de Lempicka’s aesthetic. Express Yourself takes its narrative cue from the 1927 Fritz Lang masterpiece Metropolis but the style is pure de Lempicka; take a look at the paintings Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932) and Dormeuse (1932 and 1935) and you can immediately see the similarities – the tightly coiled blonde hair, the bright red lip stick, the silk sheets as a naked woman languishes in an oversized bed. When she dons a man’s pin-striped suit there is an echo of the androgynous Portrait of the Duchess de la Salle (1925). As she dances in a basque in silhouette she echoes the Cubist, geometric accents of de Lempicka’s paintings, while the trumpeters in a rotating glass booth mimic her distinctive compositional style.




From the outset, the Vogue video explicitly worships at the altar of de Lempicka as she displays her paintings on easels amid dancers ‘striking a pose’. Andromeda, Femme a Guitar, and Nana de Herrera can all be seen in the opening shot. The video celebrates old Hollywood glamour, paying tribute to film stars of a bygone, golden era: Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, and Katharine Hepburn while at the same time celebrating the underground dance craze voguing (later captured in the film Paris is Burning, 1991). As well as de Lempicka’s influence there are a number of Horst P. Horst photographs faithfully recreated such as Mainbocher Corset, Lisa with Turban (1940), and Carmen Face Massage (1946).





Perhaps de Lempicka’s most significant contribution to Madonna’s iconography can be seen in the conical bustier designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for her infamous Blond Ambition Tour (1990). Directly influenced by the Cubist, hyperreal cones de Lempicka used to depict breasts on her female nudes, the two bustiers – rose pink and gold – were worn during the opening number Express Yourself and the now legendary Middle-Eastern take on Like a Virgin in which Madonna cavorts with hermaphrodites before masturbating on a pillow. It is this image of Madonna in her conical bra that is her most instantly iconic (and her most parodied) and is very largely indebted to de Lempicka’s concept of the modern woman and female sexuality.





More recently, the painting Nana de Herrera featured briefly in the video for Drowned World (Substitute for Love), seen hanging on a wall as Madonna leaves her house. Her fashion campaign for Louis Vuitton’s autumn winter collection in 2010 was largely inspired by Man Ray’s solarised photographs and de Lempicka’s paintings – the strong, hyperreal colour palette, the background draperies, and the angular positioning of the body with an emphasis on the figure which are all hallmarks of the artist’s work. With Madonna’s upcoming semi-biopic of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, W.E., the film is likely to include strong influences from both de Lempicka and the Art Deco period in general. More than any other artist, de Lempicka’s work has had the biggest impact on Madonna’s work and this creative partnership looks set to continue.




Source: http://phdavies.co.uk/2011/05/31/madonna-and-tamara/

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