Pierre Molinier

Cabinet Gallery

To paraphrase an old blues man, some works of art are meant to signify, others to sanctify. The late photographic work of the virtually obscure French Surrealist Pierre Molinier seems to embrace both modalities. In the end, his work is perhaps more interesting considered as a form of psychosexual reparation mediated through Surrealist dogma.

This interpretive move has consequences for Molinier’s reentry into the consciousness of the art world. Thus far, the recoding of this body of work seems to be a clear example of annexation by mainstream discourse of gendered representation. That this sort of packaging of the artist is perhaps not as perspicacious as may first appear leads one to one of the hidden bonuses of a psychosexual—albeit non-Oedipal—reading of his work. To claim that Molinier’s staged and montaged photographic works represent an attempt to instantiate the totality of a lost mother—in this case, through the sexual evocation of his sister—may indeed place them beyond the grasp of mainstream dogma.

Molinier’s psychosexual utopias remain naively perverse and resistant. Collateral works—such as the notorious dildo shoe—were looked upon by the Surrealists, wrongly it seems, as unacceptable fetish objects. They were simply too challenging as memorials to a very special bond; André Breton’s rejection of Molinier is based upon a realization that the latter’s engagement with the psychosexual theater of memory was superficial.

Molinier took his own life in 1976; however, his brief suicide note gives very little away. It is but one element of an extensive tableau of despair. The pictures themselves are equally generalized, despite their bizarre qualities. There is nothing in them to suggest that it was his youthful act of nonpenetrative sex with his sister’s corpse that led to the ethical and artistic challenge that was to haunt him for the remainder of his life. This, we are told, is the “origin” of his elaborate plaster casts of female legs, clothed in silk stockings; the layered, multiple autoerotic imagery of the montages; the dildo-shoe; the narcissism; the obsession to be and to be seen as a figure synthesizing genders. To be, as it were, transgendered: himself and his mother-sister; to fuck and be fucked both ways simultaneously.

Approaching Molinier’s work in this manner renders information that should properly be classified as artistic psycho-biography as, to borrow a phrase, the writing of a life. The risk of framing Molinier’s work as therapeutic anamnesis is worth taking, I would say, if only to demonstrate, once again, how conservative and intolerant the Surrealists were. The fact that he rehearsed his suicide several times—to the horror of his friends—but only consummated the act when it became clear that his days of anal intercourse were over, was a pernicious joke.

Michael Corris