Pulled straight from a pile of cheap devotional pictures, it seems unlikely to have been a painted-over photograph. What’s even more surprising is that this Madonna represents none other than the French singer and actress Lio. Masters of the art of subversion, Pierre & Gilles have practiced it in their hand-painted photographs since 1976. They cut their teeth in the 1980s, at the Parisian nightclub Le Palace, which introduced them to the world of showbiz and music. Together, the two partners went on to design countless album covers, including the artwork of La Notte la note which features a portrait of the singer Étienne Daho with a parrot.
In 1991, Pierre & Gilles had Lio pose dressed as Madonna: bedecked with baroque attributes of sainthood and shedding crystalline tears while pressing a bloodied heart against her chest. Pierre & Gilles are obsessed with devotional images and portraying celebrities as religious icons—a motif recurring throughout their career. However, among all the saints, Madonnas, and martyrs styled by their models, the Madonna with the Wounded Heart personified by Lio is the most fascinating.
It is fascinating because, not being easily recognizable, Lio easily lends herself to the fantasy of an actual figure of devotion; she is seen overcome with such grief that she naturally arouses pity. The image is also fascinating because its piety, while steeped in the baroque, does not veer into the artists’ customary kitsch. On the contrary, the paraphernalia, the background, and the imposing golden frame satisfy all the requirements of religious representation and successfully transform the star into a saint. We are no longer witnessing the making of an idol, but rather the making of an icon.
By Anne Laurens
Pierre and Gilles, The Factory of Idols
November 20, 2019 to February 23, 2020
Music Museum – Cité de la musique
221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris