On Gaultier: Putting on the World, Literally

Gaultier's flamboyant bricolage: Steal from everyone, everywhere, shamelessly.

So I'm walking through the Jean Paul Gaultier show at the de Young museum in SF and, I have to say, it is exhilarating. It is exhilarating to see such unabashed voracity.

It is delirious: European Victorian, sherpa wear, Japanese geisha, American Indian headdresses, African masks, Navy boys, the human body turned inside out. Nothing is out of bounds. He literally puts on the world, his appetite endless as he borrows — nay, steals — from everyone everywhere. (Stealing is what all artists do: they take from others and make it their own. Borrowing is for the tepid.)

And it is nothing less than exquisite delirium. Not only is the world folded over itself at odd angles — so is identity, selfhood, and gender. All is up for grabs and everything looks fucking great.

Experiencing this beautiful delirium, this post-national, post-gender, post-identity world, two main trains of through ran through me.

What is Gaultier's style? In some sense, it seems so obvious. How can anyone miss a Gaultier? And yet what makes his style his style is strange in that it entails this trans-global, trans-historical theft.  I want to call his style flamboyant bricolage: he doesn't just take; he doesn't just take shamelessly; he takes and gussies up, making everything runneth over. He amplifies. Compare this to other design houses — to Prada, to Gucci, to whoever the fuck (I don't know anything about fashion).  Where they seek an original signature, Gaultier seeks to sign the world itself, excessively.  

When we — my 8 year old son and I — walked out of the show, I asked him: Does everything look the same? Or does everything look different? He thought about it for a second, then said: "Both." Exactly!

The second thing that ran through my head is this: Americans are so fucking sincere. And this is interesting. After all, we are presumably the nation of multiplicity, founded on pluralism in the name of pluralism.  And yet rather than this engendering fluid identities and genders, it's made us sincere sanctimonious pricks — whether we're brain dead liberals or mind fucked religious nut jobs, it's all the same: self-righteous sincere nonsense. 

We see this all over the interweb, all over Facebook. With an opportunity to play with identities to infinity, what do we create? Endless, seemingly honest declarations of self. I'm not saying everyone is honest on Facebook. I'm saying everyone believes they're honest, strives for honesty. There is not put on!

Warhol has never been more dead and it makes me want to weep.

Gaultier's world is a place of nothing but put on — there is no seeking of sincerity.  Identity, to Gaultier, is a put on from the get go — take from everywhere, from everyone, and strut. You are not you; you are what you wear. It takes a man from France, a culture that strives for homogeneity, a place that gave us the "individual" and the Cartesian subject, to take this same subject and disseminate it, play with it, multiply it to infinity.

The post-modern came from France — not from the US, that nominal place of multiplicity.  Sure, we've had our prophets of play — WS Burroughs, Warhol, Ween, and many more. But in the morass of our multiplicity, our instinct is to find an anchor of identity and sincerity. Meanwhile, the French — who never seem like the most playful bunch with their rigid culture — seek the put on.

Go figure.

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