Catalogue accompanying the recent exhibition of the same name at France LeJeune Fine Art, Battelse steenweg 67, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium. 63 pages; approximately 40 black-and-white plates; ISBN-10 No. 90-9021382-1. Available for $25 from Vintage Works, Ltd. http://www.vintageworks.net
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One of surrealism's standard bearers, the Belgian art scholar and provocateur Marcel Marien (1920-1993) produced most of his photographic work, which is very rarely seen, between 1983 and his death a decade later, and this catalogue affords a broad glimpse of a playful, inelegant style that evokes the odd objectifications of such mentoring figures as Magritte and Man Ray. Marien's Man Ray-esque nude images dominated his photographic oeuvre, in fact, as he indulged a series of photographic jokes--such as a "bearded" Mona Lisa glimpsed in relation to a nude model's unshaven pudendum, or a miniature model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa held from a female crotch as if it were a penis.
These and other such mockeries of the female form, the voyeuristic gaze and the sanctity of photo-portraiture are intentionally flat and seem amateurish, but the more one looks at them, the more evident it becomes that Marien was very much in control of his medium and his point of view. On one hand, he sought to pay homage to his surrealist inspirations, while on the other, he, as a true Dadaist, was intent on painting a childlike moustache on the fine-art tradition, and he did so with a mixture of deadpan bravado and disarming glee.
It is not surprising to learn, as this catalogue tells us, that Marien's long friendship with Magritte resulted not only in the first important monograph on the great surrealist painter (published by Marien in 1943) but also the end of the friendship (and some subsequent litigation) when Marien published a pamphlet purportedly written by Magritte and announcing absurd price reductions of the master's work.
Marien did produce at least one great photograph in his youthful surrealist heyday: 1945's "De Sade a Lenine," in which a nude slices a loaf of bread with a knife that precariously edges her left nipple. The evocative photo blends political/sexual subtext with sheer compositional panache--and is a fine legacy of Marien's mischief and mastery.
Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.