The project is moving, playful, special: the American fashion and portrait photographer, Sandro Miller has recreated several iconic portraits in the history of photography with the ingenious, chameleon-like John Malkovich. Without him the result would have been questionable, even though the idea is great in itself. BY GYÖNGYI VERES
The photo collection is not new, it was made a few years ago, and it has been shown in several locations. In Budapest we can see the exhibition called Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich – A Homage to Photographic Masters this spring between the 28th of February and the 20th of April, hosted by Műcsarnok. The project is moving, playful, special: the American fashion and portrait photographer, Sandro Miller has recreated several iconic portraits in the history of photography with the ingenious, chameleon-like John Malkovich. As great as the idea is, it would have been difficult to pull off without the world-class actor, his impertinent transformations were essential to the pastiche.
John Malkovich was on board immediately as soon as he learned about the brazen concept – the two artists have known and liked each other for a long time. The Making of short film that can be viewed on site reveals that the actor is a veritable tabula rasa capable of morphing into anyone, his unparalleled ingenuity helps him to „sniff out the truffle”. He accurately feels the nuances and is able to reproduce them. We witness these expressions at the exhibition, and the result is entertaining, serious and accurate at the same time.
The acknowledged reference of the project is the 1999 film, Being John Malkovich. Under the stewardship of Sandro Miller the exact opposite is happening: the actor transforms, dressing and undressing, into many famous people or the characters of emblematic photos. He dons the skin of Mick Jagger, Picasso, Lincoln, Maryl Streep, Bette Davis or Truman Capote. At times the resemblance is striking: in the cases of Dalí, Jack Nicholson and Hemingway the identification is complete. The concept of rethinking cult photos and the implementation are bona fide works of art. The angle of each photograph is identical to that of the original. The lights, the posture, the cloths (or the nudity), the accessories, the hair and the make-up – they spent 150 000 on wigs! – is a real Gesamtkunstwerk: the teamwork of the artist, the muse, the make-up people and the wigmakers.
The Parisian Distortion series of André Kertész (female nudes photographed in distorting mirrors), this interesting entwinement of eroticism and caricature are also adapted: Malkovich gives the impression of a drag queen as he parades in a rococo wig. He is distorted to a monkey headed creature or a Buñuel frame: an infinite series of gaping mouths. Reflecting on the pictures of Diane Arbus, he changes into twin girls, a transvestite with rollers in his hair and a bizarre little boy. The two co-creators are at home in the world of illusions as well: in the kitsch mythology of the artistic duo Pierre et Gilles, the actor becomes Jean Paul Gaultier in a stupor.
How the middle-aged Malkovich turns into the sensually vibrant figure of Simone de Beauvoir (the original is of Art Shay from 1950) is unfathomable, but it still works: probably no-one else would have been able to reconstruct the so to say intellectually sexy buttocks reflecting contemporaneous taste of the one of the leading feminist thinkers in the 50s. He also portrays Marilyn Monroe several times, although he then does evoke the image of a tranny ready to rumble.
In the case of Hitchcock, something else is going on: Malkovich protrudes from the choreography. On the original surreal portrait constructed by Albert Watson the director holds a lifeless, plucked goose in his hand. The actor in his suit padded wide also holding a bald goose lets us know with his suggestive gaze that he is in onto the game: right now he is both a player and a viewer, he gives us a wink.
One of the best choices of Sandro Miller is a cover photo made by Carl Fischer in 1967, on which he portrayed Muhammad Ali – who refused to go to the Vietnam War because of his faith - as Saint Sebastian. A witty double twist: Malkovich becomes both of them at once.
Somewhat surprisingly the exhibition does not offer comparisons. In all likelihood the original photos are missing due to copyright reasons, but the esteemed visitors will no doubt recognize a good many, the others are easy to find on the internet. The grand total: a single room, two films, 35-40 photos. Not a lot, but the intensity of the exhibition makes it clear all the same that you can never get enough Malkovich. Malkovich is eternal.
The exhibition can be visited until the 3th of June.
Translated by Péter Papolczy