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Rose, C'est Paris by Bettina Rheims

Rose C'est Paris Text: Aran Cravey

Seductive and sadistic, virtuous and vile, Rose, C’est Paris is as rich and complex as the city that inspires it. Part film noir erotica, part photographic aria, this allegorical ménage à trois between photographer Bettina Rheims, writer Serge Bramly and Paris  as muse, explores the enigmatic shadows, hallucinogenic mysteries and surrealist fantasies of the city’s mythology. Through a succession of over 100 elaborately choreographed black and white images, as well as a film that plays throughout the gallery, the “grand serial mystérieux” as Rheims and Bramly refer to it, is a fictional narrative inspired by surrealist pseudonyms, poetic symbolism and Gothic French crime villains, among others.

Within this surreal landscape of shadows and phantoms, the mysterious disappearance of the young woman known as Rose unfolds before the viewer. Although, it is her twin sister, B, who takes us through the maze of rich imagery and symbolism, where we encounter a wonderland of fantastical characters. Separated into thirteen individual chapters, each episode imagines a different, provocative possibility for the missing sister and offers another visual seduction for the viewer.

However, narrative is merely a vehicle for Rheims and Bramly’s exquisite exploration of the City of Light. Together with their own autobiographical souvenirs, “Rose, C’est Paris” is largely a reflection of the mythological Paris created by the surrealist artists. Between the wars, artists  Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton and Man Ray, among others,  pushed the boundaries of identity and artistic expression. Duchamp’s female pseudonym, Rrose Selavy exemplifies the spirited nature with which these artists explored their imagination and challenged convention. And it is this same admiration of play and game that resounds in “Rose, C’est Paris.”

Those viewers versed in art history will be delighted by the exhibition’s wealth of artistic references.  Along with several incarnations of works from the oeuvre of Duchamp, including La Grand Verre and L.H.O.O.Q. (La Jocunde), viewers will also find tableaux paying homage to la Leçon de guitare by Balthus and la Liberté guidant le peuple by Delacroix. Literary references are equally abundant, with the omni-present eye of the Fantômas character inspired by the svengali villain of crime novels written by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.

Yet, prior study of art history and literature is not required to appreciate the plethora of sensual pleasures offered in Rheims and Bramly’s artistic adoration of Paris. Although, a generous amount of time given to visiting the exhibition at the BnF site Richelieu might be suggested. The film runs 138 minutes with each frame more luscious than the next.

For centuries, artists have found inspiration in her boulevards and cafés; and her spell can transform even the weariest tourist into a Degas or Doisneau. With their new exhibition, Bettina Rheims and Serge Bramly follow in the tradition of masters such as Izis and Willy Ronis, two iconic photographers whose works are also currently on display, and whose love affair with Paris has inspired the poetry of their images. “Rose, C’est Paris” is a labyrinth of tantalizing intrigues without conclusions, but like Paris, it is hersecrets that captivate the imagination.

BNF - Richelieu Library
5, rue Vivienne
75002 Paris
Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday noon – 7 p.m.
Closed Mondays and public holidays
Tickets: 7/5 €

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