Art and Artists

Colette: The Light Of Lumiere

Colette performs "If It Takes Forever I Will Wait For You," 1974 at the Idea Warehouse
“If It Takes Forever I Will Wait For You,” installation with sleeping performance, projections, fan, sound – 1975 at the Idea Warehouse

Long before Banksy, and even prior to Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Colette was anonymously creating numerous large street paintings, until her identity was discovered by Willoughby Sharp of Avalanche magazine, and soon after she gained notoriety. Al Hansen, the well known Fluxus artist, interviewed and filmed her while she was creating one of her works, entitled “The Ear” in Soho, her favorite canvas. While filming, her ritual/performance was cut short as police arrived and the artists tried to escape. Colette managed to hide herself in a nearby building. Arnold Newman, the famed photographer who discovered her whereabouts and had come to shoot her for Verizon Magazine, was held instead for questioning. Her street paintings were ephemeral, never meant to last, but word of mouth spread quickly around the neighborhood’s of New York when one of her works would magically appeared seemingly overnight. She created other well known street works in other locations, such as “The Lips” (which covered the entire intersection of on West 57th Street), and “It Was Here” (which covered a very long section of Federal highway in front of the Norton Museum). “It Was Here,” is considered her  most grandiose street painting performance was executed on Friday the 13th, 1974 during a solar eclipse. Colette painted Aristotelian quotes again on the pavement of the gardens across the street from the Norton, then crossing over the federal highway. When the police arrived at the end of her ritual, they discovered Colette sleeping on the steps of the museum, above the entrance of which featured a relief of a woman entitled “Inspiration.” They immediately recognized the artist, now sleeping dressed in a salmon night gown. She had received much press coverage for her environment and art works showcased at the same time in the museum.

Colette Lumiere: “The Ear” – Spring St., Soho
New York, parts 1 and 2 – – 1973

Throughout the rest of the 1970’s (and really, still through to today), her unique, iconic mode of dress began to influence the fashion world as a whole. Her habit of wearing undergarments such as bloomers, corsets, garters, etc., as her everyday clothing, influenced at first the New York scene but quickly the world. A young Madonna in New York in the late 1970’s was one of the most famous of the time to have absorbed Colette’s style and sass into her own wardrobe and persona. More contemporary artists, such as Lady Gaga, also find the roots of their fashion in the style that Colette pioneered decades before.

This could not have been more clear when in 2012 one of the windows of Barney’s Department Store in NYC, entitled “Gaga’s Boudoir,” plagiarized Colette’s legendary environment (72-82). The windows were created with with Colette’s signature style, using undeniably Colette elements such as her distinctive covering of all furniture and walls, embedded mirrors, and even a Gaga replica lying on a sofa in a reclining pose, replacing Colette. The display prompted a gentle, elegant performance and street-art protest from Colette, in the hopes of elevating conversation in the art world to consider art versus commerce, individual versus corporation, and where the line is to be drawn between inspiration and plagiarism.

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