Grace Jones: the career of an icon celebrated in the United Kingdom

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Below is a translation of Emma Naroumbo Armaing’s review Grace Jones: la carrière d’une icône célébrée au Royaume-Uni [Grace Jones: the career of an icon celebrated in the United Kingdom] published in Numéro. The review refers to the upcoming exhibition; “Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio;” to open at Nottingham Contemporary on September 26, 2020. The exhibition will be on view until January 3, 2021.

Icon of the 80s, a friend and muse of photographers, a regular visitor to Studio 54, Grace Jones is honored by Nottingham Contemporary from September 26, 2020 to January 3, 2021. Through an exhibition entitled “Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio,” the British museum looks back on the prolific career of the singer, model and actress from the angle of genre, performance and the construction of the black body in image.

Protruding cheekbones, ultra-sharp short cut, sharp eyebrows, wide red smile, and endless legs: the angular and harmonious face of Grace Jones and her slender body have inspired more than one photographer. From her disco queen image to that of cyborg for the Citroën advertising spot in 1985, via the molded mask with the features of her face made by her collaborator and life partner Jean-Paul Goude, British museum Nottingham Contemporary, based in the eponymous city in the north of England, offers—starting September 26—a retrospective of the career of the Jamaican singer, model, and actress. Now 72 years old, she has never ceased to foil social and artistic codes.

A character who thwarts codes of representation

Known by all for her androgynous physique, Grace Jones played with the notoriety of the binary codes assigned to masculinity and femininity from the very beginning. Claiming her desire to feel as feminine as masculine, she confides on the set of the Australian show Day by Day, in 1985: “I find it ridiculous to try to categorize people’s feelings or preferences; there is no comparison to make, one cannot say that one thing is better or worse than another. Only do what you feel like doing, when you feel like it, if you feel like it.” Cédric Fauq and Olivia Aherne, curators of Nottingham Contemporary, have decided to place gender and race issues at the center of the retrospective.

A “journey through time” that “seeks to give both a historical background and a contemporary perspective to the creation of the image chez Grace Jones, whether on stage, in music, or in fashion,” announces the exhibition text to give us an appetizing sample. Because the image of the artist has indeed, over the years, become iconic, worked on and fashioned by others, including French photographer Jean-Paul Goude. Besides the musical documentary A One Man Show, which he directed in 1982 for the one who shared his life for some time, he built an erotic and sulphurous aesthetic, bordering on exoticism, through series of shots, like the famous Jungle Fever (1972) where Grace Jones appears naked, on all fours, roaring in a cage.

A life of art and celebration

A creature of the stage, which inspired a whole young generation of artists—Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, to name a few—Grace Jones made her life an art, and above all, a party. An enthusiast of social evenings, New York and Parisian clubs, cities in which she splits her life, the “disco queen” is one of the emblematic personalities of New York’s Studio 54 alongside Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Azzedine Alaïa. The Nottingham Contemporary exhibition also includes work by these artists, as well as around thirty other artists and creators for whom Grace Jones thus became an iconic muse with a thousand faces.

[Above: One of the iconic photos taken by Jean-Paul Goude.]

For more on the exhibition, see Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio, du 26 septembre 2020 au 3 janvier 2021 au Nottingham Contemporary.

Article translated by Ivette Romero. For the original article (in French), see https://www.numero.com/fr/art/grace-jones-nottingham-contemporary-grace-before-jones-camera-disco-studio-exposition-2020

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