PARIS — A backgrounder on author and editor Nicholas Foulkes, for any non-journalist who wants to be one: luxury editor of GQ, contributing editor of the Financial Times’ “How To Spend It” column, contributing editor of Vanity Fair, known historian, multi-published author. He was exactly as I’d imagined from photos: cinnamon hair, old-British world traveler style, wrist accessories perhaps from the time of British colonialism, and hunting when it existed legally in more areas of the world. After introductions and once-overs, Foulkes expressed that working on this bookBals:Legendary Costume Balls of the Twentieth Century(Assouline) for Van Cleef & Arpels’ current collection Bals de Légende — even as an established historian and writer, taught him some things: “What I had known before hadn’t linked as continuum parts of a cultural activity. It was more than just parties.”
Preparation for these events was as elaborate as, if not more so than, theater: settings, china and decor had to be as perfect as the guests’ attire, rehearsed performances mingled with guests’ real life actions, so that the lines between fantasy and reality were deliberately blurred. In the 19th century, when aristocracy had merged with the upper classes and the balls crossed the Atlantic to the United States, these events were just as lavish, if more modern, taking months to prepare. As Hélène David-Weill’s foreword states: “These were not parties in the sense that the word is understood today. They were not a matter of hiring a party planner and spending a great deal of money. Today, lavish expense is also mistaken for originality and no amount of money can take the place of a sensitivity to beauty and the understanding of cultural context that enabled people to host such events.” A costume ball in 1840 “also saw an element that was to become a part of costume balls in the future: media management. In a prescient move that would become accepted practice in the subsequent century, the host had done a deal with the New York Herald, allowing the newspaper to cover the event, as long as it did so in a respectful, almost fawning manner,” wrote Foulkes.
The elephant in the room: One of the two white elephants guarding the courtyard of the Hotel Lambert in Alexandre Serebriakoff’s watercolors of Alexis de Rede’s Oriental Ball
In the 20th century, movie stars mingled with high society, and the term “beautiful people” as we know it today dominated the guest list. Like all ball hosts, Truman Capote, who hosted the famous Black and White Ball in 1966, crafted his guest list very carefully — and went a step further: “The list was a chance for Capote to audit his friendships, reward those whom he liked or thought important and punish those whom he held some grievance. Above all, it was an exercise in total control, to the degree that single friends were not allowed to bring dates but had to come alone — a petty cruelty, but one many people seemed happy to endure for the sake of being at what would become a serious contender for the title of party of the century,” wrote Faulkes. The Proust Ball given by Marie-Helene and Guy de Rothschild in 1971 was the last of these balls, which, said Foulkes, “conceptually, took too much time.” Wrote Guy de Rothschild in The Whims of Fortune, “Giving a ball is not necessarily the same as having a ball. A brilliant night is superceded by many sleepless ones. A veritable Penelope, aided by a few exhausted friends, she arranges and rearranges the seating plan until each guest ends up with the neighbour closest to his heart. Each separate element must be thought of, planned; a flower, a light, a decoration, moved a hundred times; until the very last minute.” It was also said that somebody was made to spend a few weeks with Baroness Rothschild to educate her on Proust’s characters.
The Venetian: Beistegui Ball, Venice, September 1951 Photo by ROBERT DOISNEAU
Farce-turned-reality-turned-farce were as much in abundance as in past balls: “As the tables were so close together, there was plenty of tripping over long trains and bashing into huge hair as people tried to make way to their places as gracefully as possible… Once a person was seated, the crush was such that the usual pageantry of a Rothschild dinner was suspended. Instead, at many tables, one guest elected to be the person at the delivery point, receiving dishes from the liveried staff and handing them around the table,” wrote Foulkes. The book, says Foulkes, is a “historical, anthropological assessment of a way of life that has ceased to exist because the world grew bigger and more commercial.” Working with Van Cleef & Arpels for about 20 months took a lot of research, including interviews with his friend Claus Von Bulow (who in 1982 had been accused of murdering his wife), who was part of high society’s must-invites. “It is a cultural fulcrum and a prism in which to view life in the 20th century… It is about remaining interested as much as anything.” The jewelry that inspired the book, in particular the collection Le Bal Oriental, is as precious and lively as one can imagine these social gatherings might have really been like.
Van Cleef et Arpels’ Bals de Légende Press Preview:
Didn’t get a photo with Catherine Deneuve but got her autograph:
“I think that most people would agree that color is among themost important elements of my work and when we look back on the life of Yves Klein, the reason becomes clear. Color is much like the means of Japanese Zen Buddhism, it is a tool that can instantaneously guide people to a world outside themselves. I would like to dedicate this exhibition to the artist who has most passionately pursued this exploration of color – Yves Klein.” - Takashi Murakami
Yves Klein aimed to revolutionize the art world: in 1954, he conceptualized a series of tipped-in colour plates and took the art world by storm; his affair with colour challenged the traditional focus of line in paintings. International Klein Blue – the colour he invented – and his anthropométries, monochromes, cosmogenies and fire paintings are among several creations that have influenced modern art. According to historians, his works were more about elevating viewers’ minds than the actual physical objects themselves.
Takashi Murakami is popular for his manga-influenced designs and the concept of superflat, which describes the visual characteristics of Japanese art. His commercial and non-commercial works – perhaps to the general public what is most known are his collaborations with Louis Vuitton and other icons in popular culture – are sometimes life-sized and have been described as colourful and hypnotic. He mixes Japanese low and high cultures to form a unique signature.
In his “Homage to Yves Klein” at Paris’ Galerie Perrotin, Murakami’s cutesy characters are painted in monochromes inspired by Klein’s “Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 67)”, “Untitled Monogold (MG 8)”, “Untitled Pink Monochrome (MP19)”, and sponge reliefs.
Klein’s featured works are beautiful and arresting. In the quietly glittering scheme are a charisma and soulful depth that pull the viewer in. Murakami’s take on Klein’s œuvres include a muted silver and gold leaf triptych made in 1995 that displays an alluring Japanese simplicity. The paintings of his trademark smiling flowers, in contrast, emit a booming articulation that can limit the viewer’s need to gaze for a long time – which may not be the point in his more conspicuous works – but make an instant visual impact. The synergy between the two artists’ works are in the colours: Klein’s elegant gold sponge reliefs flow into Murakami’s acrylic and gold leaf skulls.
Takashi Murakami “Homage to Yves Klein” runs until January 7, 2012 at Galerie Perrotin, 10 impasse Saint-Claude, Paris 75003, France.