New York

“Jean Cocteau: The Mirror and The Mask”

Julie Saul Gallery

“Jean Cocteau: The Mirror and the Mask”: curious title for an exhibition of photographic portraits depicting (according to the press release) “one of the greatest contributors to the arts during the heyday of the French avant-garde.” French fag, very busy with his hands—all that decor to arrange, in order to fill up those empty, chilled white rooms of his. [Delete previous sentence. Could be construed as moral judgment leveled against sodomites. Also, ambiguous use of word “white.” Could be construed by white populace as being unnecessarily aggressive. Private agenda inappropriate in this context.] When was Cocteau the mirror? When was he the mask? What does a fag reviewer see in the mirror if Cocteau is generally seen as a mirror? Similar philosophical question more directly stated: if Cocteau were to become “humanized” (i.e. less the mythological public fairy), would he be spared the monstrously inaccurate literature, criticism, historicizing, and bad speculation surrounding him and, consequently, us, his audience? [Delete previous question. Inflammatory and unsupported.]

Many portraits of Cocteau. Approximately 100 prints, “many of them rare and vintage” (the same press note reads.) Cocteau by Cecil Beaton; Cocteau by Louise Dahl-Wolfe; Cocteau by Berenice Abbott; Cocteau by Giselle Freund, Man Ray, George Platt Lynes. So much Cocteau, in fact, that this collective “portrait” should not be seen as a truth-telling apparatus, nor as a means of “representation.” The likeness the photographer duplicated depended on how much or how little Cocteau chose to misrepresent himself. (Opium addict addicted to the mise-en-scène: his.) Very curious, that. Not a life projected in these images, but a “personal” style. Cocteau as object-boy in a wardrobe of his own devising: neurasthenic art-world tart, shamelessly desexed by the demands of high faggot style. [Delete condemnation of individual sodomite. Could be construed as blanket statement. Query: are all sodomites neurasthenic?]

One image of Cocteau seen against another image of Cocteau: Berenice Abbott’s Cocteau in Bed with Mask of Antigone, 1927, and Robert Doisneau’s On the Film Set with Jean Marais, 1948. Neither photograph particularly inspired as photograph, but interesting to speculate upon. In the first, Cocteau is shown flat on his back: in the second, he should be, with his legs up in the air and wrapped around Marais (God, to some). Not a compromising position, just a graphic explication of snobbery and greed as need.

Hilton Als