Duncan Hannah, Isabelle, 2010, oil on canvas, 9 7/8 x 9 7/8".

Duncan Hannah, Isabelle, 2010, oil on canvas, 9 7/8 x 9 7/8".

Duncan Hannah


Duncan Hannah, Isabelle, 2010, oil on canvas, 9 7/8 x 9 7/8".

In his book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past (2011), Simon Reynolds unpacks a less-discussed register of the Sex Pistols’ legendary exhortation “No Future.” In addition to its apocalyptic disregard for what was to come, Reynolds argues, punk valorized an outmoded past—the sound and fashion of 1950s American rock ’n’ roll—in opposition to hippie counterculture. Punk’s retrospective gaze figured in the interplay between past and present in “Duncan Hannah: Paris,” a sampling of the artist’s recent drawings, paintings, and collages, along with film clips and copies of a “zine” created by the curator, British critic Adrian Dannatt, chronicling Hannah’s presence on the East Village scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Dannatt focused on French motifs in Hannah’s work from the past six years: representational drawing and painting, primarily of film actresses; collages incorporating older French paperback covers or pinup photographs; and paintings of such collages. Synthesizing Edward Hopper’s plainly descriptive line and soft brushwork with Balthus’s prurient gaze on canvases of no more than twelve inches square, Hannah’s portraits such as Anouk Aimée, 2012; Brigitte Bardot, 2013; and Sylvia Kristel, 2013, offer little in the way of background detail and frequently isolate their subjects, from the waist or shoulders up. Some, such as Regarding Marion, 2008, are directly adapted from publicity photographs (in this case, of Marion Cotillard); others, such as Regarding Marlene, 2011, a nude Dietrich, half-submerged in water, suggest memories or fantasies. Hannah’s approach remains measured and cool while never becoming systematic, as if in belated opposition to the appropriation aesthetics of his Pictures contemporaries. The collages and their representational counterparts are similarly tasteful, set in ordered, legible grids, with coy, even quaint, groupings of movie tickets, erotica, and the covers of paperback classics or literary journals, as in Baudelaire and Fantine, both 2013. Also included were Truffaut Double Feature, 2011, and Breathless, 2012, imaginings of French New Wave screenings at forlorn movie theaters.

Juxtaposing Hannah’s present-day guise with materials from thirty or more years ago, “Paris” recalled Castillo/Corrales’s previous reconsiderations of overlooked transdisciplinary practitioners Christian Leigh and Kathryn Bigelow. Hannah made his film debut as the male lead in Amos Poe’s film Unmade Beds (1976), supposedly thanks to his close resemblance to Truffaut alter ego Jean-Pierre Léaud. His exchanges with costar Debbie Harry, clearly based on those in Godard’s Breathless (1960), have a Warholian flatness. He would also appear in Poe’s The Foreigner (1978), which the director conceived of as an “anti-homage” to Godard’s Alphaville (1965). Vera Dika has argued that Poe’s work was a more critical component of a larger “recycled culture” in ’70s film that included such nostalgic blockbusters as American Graffiti and Grease, noting the possible link between the Nouvelle Vague and the No Wave movement, for which Poe’s films are often seen as a starting point. If Hannah’s contemporary work returns Francophilic longing to a prewar mannered gentility, Dannatt was perceptive enough to realize that downtown art and film, for all their grime and amateurism, have also taken on an auratic gleam in recent years. The show’s “genuine ‘punk’ fanzine,” consisting of color ink-jet renderings of hand-captioned clippings and photographs of Hannah, was available for two euros. Like Poe’s willfully clumsier copies of Godard’s copies, this simulation of its Xeroxed predecessors celebrates a star who was never quite a star, a face and body made to signify only when placed in the right context: No Wave film, downtown artist. Such bemused metacommentary on the inevitable historicization of that era has its cake and eats it too, recovering a figure whose significance is diffused among art, film, and a more general “scene” in which one’s very comportment and longings—even those of a dandy out of time—mattered. If this represents an alternative historical model to the ongoing canonization of the Pictures artists, it may be a step in the right direction.

Daniel Quiles