View of “Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz,” 2011–12.

View of “Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz,” 2011–12.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz

Marcelle Alix

View of “Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz,” 2011–12.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz’s exhibition “Salomania” focused on the infatuation that performers and authors have had with the New Testament figure of Salomé. Her veiled sexuality and exoticism have often been perceived as arousing a perverse desire, itself a manifestation of a preoccupation with the dark relationship between Eros and Thanatos, epitomized by the trading of her sensual dance for the head of John the Baptist. Oscar Wilde’s controversial 1891 play Salomé was the origin of much of the dancer’s modern mythology and is one of Boudry and Lorenz’s main references, which also include passages from Flaubert’s short story “Hérodias” as well as from his Egyptian journal, and particularly the Russian-born actress and film producer Alla Nazimova’s bizarre 1923 silent-screen adaptation of Wilde’s play, realized in Hollywood with a cast rumored to have been made up exclusively of gay and lesbian actors. Presenting such an intriguing matrix of historical sources, the artists treat Salomé as a composite “image-desire”—using a term they have borrowed from Elspeth Probyn’s book Outside Belongings (1996)—standing for a mental projection of strong and often contradictory feelings, rather than as a specific character.

At Marcelle Alix, the upstairs gallery functioned as a sort of a cinema foyer dominated by twelve gigantic Art Deco fans modeled on those in Nazimova’s film, made of wood, plywood, black rubber, and ostrich feathers. Displayed on a wall were framed reproductions of old photographs with numerous historical personages in them, including the director, choreographer, and dancer Aida Overton Walker and the dancer and costume and light designer Loie Fuller, in addition to Flaubert, Wilde, and Nazimova. A short text accompanying each photograph explained its subject’s involvement with the story of Salomé and put it in the context of his or her private life, while often mentioning the evidence of historical misinterpretations. For instance, revisionist scholars have recently argued that although during his trip to Egypt Flaubert might have had an affair with the courtesan Kuchuk Hanem—as mentioned in his journal—the inspiration for the description of Salomé’s dance in “Hérodias” came most likely from his seeing a famous male-to-female transvestite perform. Such biographical “white spots,” often related to the ambiguous reading of one’s sexuality, are what motivate Boudry and Lorenz’s work, more than the legends that have grown around the brief biblical mention of Salomé’s dance.

The looped sixteen-and-a-half-minute video Salomania, 2009, projected downstairs, reconstructs the dance of the seven veils on its own, treating the footage of Nazimova’s performance from her silent movie as a main visual referent. To bring the dance into the present and show how different performers have used it to express their complex desires and historical interests, the video also shows the artist and trans-activist Wu Tsang—who introduces himself as a composite of Wilde, Nazimova, and Salomé—preparing to stage an adaptation of the dance as a drag performance, while presenting the princess as transgender. One of the most engaging moments in the video shows Tsang rehearsing with Yvonne Rainer the movements from her 1972 dance composition Valda’s Solo, which was also inspired by Nazimova’s original production. Like the installation upstairs, the video tells the story of the impact of Salomé’s performance on the imagination of the dancers who have practiced their own “Salomania,” transgressing established norms in both art and life through their highly choreographed sexuality.

Marek Bartelik