A tattoo exhibition? You mean, not in the corner of a tattoo convention? In a real museum? Well, it’s for real, and it’s happening now in Paris, at the Museum du quai Branly, which is quite famous for showing high quality exhibitions, usually specialized in anthropology and ethnology. And it is now showing “Tatoueurs, tatoues” (or “tattooists, tattooed”).
Of course, having a few tattoos myself, and being both interested and a bit educated in tattoo history and techniques, I had to rush there, and report back on what this exhibit has to offer:
The exhibition was curated by Anne & Julien (who’ve been involved in the modern art scene for many years now), and advised and directed by famed French tattoo artist Tin-Tin. The goal of the exhibit, as explained by Anne & Julien, is to show how tattoo, which has existed since ancient times, has changed, developed, disappeared, and been reborn to the art we know today.
In the first part, named “from the global to the marginal,” the exhibition tells the story of tattoo throughout history, and society. You can view a mummified tattooed arm from Peru, antique tools, and amazing portraits of Algerian tattooed women. This part also explores the role of tattoos in the navy, and in prisons with, among other things, a short movie that I highly recommend: “La peau du milieu” (1957), showing the “underground” side of tattoo, at a time when the meaning was much more important than the style, which was, well, rather poor.
Then, you enter the marginal and colorful world of sideshow, circus, freaks, and…traveling tattoo artists. As a transition, there’s a very interesting “Wall of Fame,” displaying a timeline of tattoo culture, including laws, techniques, famous tattoo artists, and famous tattooed people.
The exhibition goes on with a focus on tattoo in Japan, North America, and Europe. The Japanese selection shows some stunning paintings, tattoo projects, photos of tattooed people, videos, a photo of a tattooed skin taken from a dead man (gulp! I first didn’t notice it was only a photo); other incredible artifacts include a kabuki costume painted so that it looked like a tattoo when worn by the actor. In the North America and European selections, there were more photos and prints of tattooed people, and interestingly, a copy of Samuel O’Reilly’s patent for his tattooing machine (and some modern day machines as well).
Moving through the exhibit, at this stage, museum goers now view works made by tattoo artists exclusively for this exhibition: 19 artists worked on “tattoo project” paintings, and 13 artists tattooed silicon body parts to great effect.
There’s also an exploration into the revival of traditional tattoo in Oceania and South-East Asia, displaying some impressive masks and head sculptures (I was especially impressed by those), traditional tools, as well as modern tattoo projects. There’s further cultural discussion of tattoo in China, the Latino and Chicano cultures in the US, among others.
At last, the exhibition ends with the “new generation” of artists, such as Yann Black and the “Art Brut” movement in tattooing, as a nod to the future of the art.
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