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Rancinan in Asia: The French Photographer Translates Classic Art for a Bloated Age

Rancinan The Last Supper

Last Thursday, 21CB visited Opera Gallery for the grand opening of French photographer Gérard Rancinan‘s first exhibition in Asia. As we munched on pink slices of meat in the brightly lit space, we couldn’t help but think of ourselves as subjects of another Rancinan photograph, among waiters in Batman masks and champagne glasses that clinked a little too malevolently. This was performance art, we thought to ourselves, and we had fallen right into its trap.

Warning: Images may not be safe for work.

Rancinan Hong Kong

Gerard Rancinan himself.

Rancinan previously covered wars and urban riots as a photojournalist, but he now opts for an alternate sort of “reality.” His works from the Metamorphoses series—blown up to giant sizes that span the height of the gallery walls—parody masterpieces of the art world, now transmogrified into grotesque characters and pop culture icons. The works of Romantic artist and fellow Frenchman Eugène Delacroix are spoofed more than once. Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Henri Matisse’s “The Dance” are also referenced. Rancinan’s glossy photographs, however, seem to replace the drama of the original painterly tableaus with an eerie artifice. After all, Rancinan made his name shooting portraits for the likes of Time and Vanity Fair.

Rancinan La Liberte Devoilee

"La Liberte Devoilee" (2008)

Rancinan Raft of Illusions

"Raft of Illusions" (2009)

From The Independent:

The pictures parody fashion, materialism, capitalism and religion by mimicking the set up of famous Masterpieces and subverting them [...]

Rancinan and [writer Caroline] Gaudriault were a little offended when I suggested there were comparisons to be made, technically at least, with the set up of his photographs and the style of some (very impressive) fashion photography. He agreed grudgingly that this was an influence but dismissed it as insignificant in light of the bigger ideas at hand. The former snapper for Time, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair has fully shed his background in favour of ‘art’.

Or to use Rancinan’s own words, there are no “frontiers between different fields.” That is, there is “no difference between a wedding photographer and a war photographer…between a painter and a photographer,” he told Time Out Hong Kong in an interview. The role of all artists are the same: to be “witnesses of our contemporary time.”

Rancinan Las Meninas

"Las Meninas" (2009)

Rancinan’s witness also comes to bear in two other sets of works: Hypotheses and Wonderful World. The latter series embraces Disney iconography, one image placing Mickey Mouse masks on armed soldiers jumping like you would in a carefully timed Facebook profile picture—overlaying an already unsettling image with an extra layer of creepy. Or consider the photograph below, in which a very posed and very bloated Mickey family watches the telly:

Rancinan Family Watching The TV

"Family Watching The TV" (2011)

Get it? We’re on TV. And that’s when we figured out, the real exhibition was us!

(Photograph of Rancinan by Connie Hum)

Gérard Rancinan in Hong Kong will be exhibited at Opera Gallery from November 11 to December 1.


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