At the prestigious Museum du quai Branly in Paris, the "Tatoueurs, tatoues" opened on May 6th to great acclaim, with renowned tattoo artists in attendance for the opening, as well as international media (including the New York Times). Reviewing the exhibit for Needles & Sins, our friend Serinde in Paris offers her thoughts in this guest post as well as photos of exhibit pieces here on Flickr.
A tattoo exhibition? You mean, not in the corner of a tattoo convention? In a real museum? Well, it's for real, and it's happening now in Paris, at the Museum du quai Branly, which is quite famous for showing high quality exhibitions, usually specialized in anthropology and ethnology. And it is now showing "Tatoueurs, tatoues" (or "tattooists, tattooed"). Of course, having a few tattoos myself, and being both interested and a bit educated in tattoo history and techniques, I had to rush there, and report back on what this exhibit has to offer:The exhibition was curated by Anne & Julien (who've been involved in the modern art scene for many years now), and advised and directed by famed French tattoo artist Tin-Tin. The goal of the exhibit, as explained by Anne & Julien, is to show how tattoo, which has existed since ancient times, has changed, developed, disappeared, and been reborn to the art we know today.
In the first part, named "from the global to the marginal," the exhibition tells the story of tattoo throughout history, and society. You can view a mummified tattooed arm from Peru, antique tools, and amazing portraits of Algerian tattooed women. This part also explores the role of tattoos in the navy, and in prisons with, among other things, a short movie that I highly recommend: "La peau du milieu" (1957), showing the "underground" side of tattoo, at a time when the meaning was much more important than the style, which was, well, rather poor. Then, you enter the marginal and colorful world of sideshow, circus, freaks, and...traveling tattoo artists. As a transition, there's a very interesting "Wall of Fame," displaying a timeline of tattoo culture, including laws, techniques, famous tattoo artists, and famous tattooed people.
The exhibition goes on with a focus on tattoo in Japan, North America, and Europe. The Japanese selection shows some stunning paintings, tattoo projects, photos of tattooed people, videos, a photo of a tattooed skin taken from a dead man (gulp! I first didn't notice it was only a photo); other incredible artifacts include a kabuki costume painted so that it looked like a tattoo when worn by the actor. In the North America and European selections, there were more photos and prints of tattooed people, and interestingly, a copy of Samuel O'Reilly's patent for his tattooing machine (and some modern day machines as well). Moving through the exhibit, at this stage, museum goers now view works made by tattoo artists exclusively for this exhibition: 19 artists worked on "tattoo project" paintings, and 13 artists tattooed silicon body parts to great effect. There's also an exploration into the revival of traditional tattoo in Oceania and South-East Asia, displaying some impressive masks and head sculptures (I was especially impressed by those), traditional tools, as well as modern tattoo projects. There's further cultural discussion of tattoo in China, the Latino and Chicano cultures in the US, among others. At last, the exhibition ends with the "new generation" of artists, such as Yann Black and the "Art Brut" movement in tattooing, as a nod to the future of the art.
So, did I like this exhibition? Hell yeah! The collection is extensive, covering the story of tattooing from prehistoric practice to modern tattoo art. And many items are absolutely unexpected, such as the antique tools and books, the preserved tattooed skins, and also the modern tattoos made on the silicon props (this was a great idea!). For me, what would have made it even better is to view examples of the dotwork style which is, in my opinion, as important among the developing styles and techniques, such as "Art Brut." I would have also liked the exhibition to go even further, and have one more section in which we could have seen more examples of how tattoo is now a fine art, and how it can be linked to existing artworks and classic painters; for example, I would have loved to see some Wim Delvoye's tattooed pigs, or how the dotwork technique can be compared to some pointillism classic painting, or how some tattoo styles are inspired from the street art.
Overall, I strongly recommend that you plan a trip to Paris to see it. "Tatoueurs, tatoues" is on view until October 15th, 2015 at Museum du quai Branly. Plan a good 2-hour visit if you want to see everything, and if you can, book your ticket in advance. Also, the main titles in each section are in French and English; the details about each displayed item are mainly in French, though it's easily understandable (name /year/...). There are also audioguides available, likely in several languages.
Serinde is a (uber-lovely) French woman who got into tattoo 10 years ago. Interested in all styles and techniques of tattoos, she prefers blackwork for her own tattoos, and she's the proud wearer of 3 neo-tribal ornaments made by G-Rom (Artribal, Lyon), and 2 dotwork beauties inflicted by Colin Dale (Skin&Bone, Copenhagen).