Wednesday, February 09, 2011

KARLHEINZ WEINBERGER: BACK IN THE NEWS


Trendhunters, fashionistas, and bona fide designers are desperate for new source material to mine, as the old standards - Steve McQueen, James Dean, Marylin - are becoming a bit predictable.  How many times can we see the ultra-cool visage of Steve giving his famous 'two fingers' salute at LeMans before we yawn and pass right by...we've seen it before, attached to the previous product to license his face.

When a genuine original is spotted, published in an obscure (preferably out-of-print) monograph, and a rumored exhibition years ago which nobody really saw (barring those who claim to have seen it, like the half-million attendees at the Sex Pistol's last concert in San Francisco), frissons of excitement run through the design world.  The hungry maw of Capital sends its advance men, the savvy super-expert buyers and trend forecasters for Ralph Lauren and Chanel, true curators of future style, to analyze and grab the essence of what is different about this new find.  Preferably, a new-found gold mine is just different enough to bump the existing product line into a new and irresistible direction, forcing the hands of a million consumers to lay their Amex on the table, trumped by a well-played hand of fashion poker.

Karlheinz Weinberger, the late-celebrated Swiss photographer (see my previous article here), is back on the scene this month, with TWO exhibitions in New York, plus the release of a Rizzoli monograph, 'Rebel Youth', with an introduction by John Waters ("Karlheinz Weinberger was from Switzerland?!?  You gotta be kidding me."). It appears we will no longer have to spend $1000 on ebay for our Weinberger books...

The New York Times ran a story today on the imminent flood of Karlheinz-mania, which includes an exhibition at the Swiss Institute (495 Broadway), 'Intimate Stranger', opening today (Feb 9, 2011), which includes a selection of the actual jackets and pants created by the young gang members in Weinberger's photographs.  And let us remember that what makes Karlheinz Weinberger distinctive and worthy of image-poaching is not his photographic technique - charmingly crude in-home 'studio' setups of his young friends - but the very subjects of his best-known work, the 'Halbstark' (half-strength) kids who worshiped Elvis and James Dean from a long, long distance, and grew their own feral-fashion island in the midst of placid Switzerland.  Thus, we celebrate the photographic portal through which we see these long-ago youngsters, not the actual creators of this amazing style, the original fanboys and girls, and to my knowledge none of them have come forward to claim their Vivienne Westwood moment as the true originator of an amazing 'look'.

The second exhibit at Anna Kustera Gallery (520 W. 21st - opening Feb 11th) features posthumously-printed color photographs, to be shown publicly for the first time.  All this just in time for New York's 2011 Fashion Week; what a coincidence!   Stay tuned for oversize belt buckles and horseshoes, but I doubt the zipper-replaced-by-bolts thing will appear anywhere but a John Galliano runway show... mark my words.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Like your jaundiced view of the capitalist fashion marketing machine Paul; I share it. But on the flip side, there's perhaps some imperative for extending this self-awareness. Rebellion is not rebellion anymore when it's coopted for marketing purposes. But isn't making fetish objects of rare vintage motorcycles on the same continuum? In other words, rejecting the present for the past is the same gesture - an illusion of authenticity since it's merely flight from our moment. Is there no way of authentic motorcycling today? And was the past really all we project onto it? After all. it was the present once, and today we prefer it just because it's not the present.

Mark D.

Anonymous said...

For marketers seeking images to mine, the fracturing of popular culture is a disaster. Few pop culture icons since the Beatles and Rolling Stones have recognition beyond a niche.

From film the situation is not as dire, but the iconic actors since the 70's have been so over promoted and image managed, that it makes one yawn. Arnold, Clooney, Brad, eh.

The Vintagent said...

‎@Mark; You've brought up a great point. I do see a difference between 'coopting' and 'taking inspiration'. Reportage on fetishization is not necessarily an endorsement! Our Capitalist world is a great big mixed bag of the honest experience of interest/appreciation for history, and the desire by some to profit from people's interests.

The hope of every historian is that we will integrate knowledge of the past into our decisions for the future, thus keeping what our forbears have done alive and relevant. Our fear is that the past will be seen as irrelevant, or simply empty images to be mined for profit.

Regarding authentic motorcycling today; every ride is an authentic experience.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely LOVE IT, just as I LOVED the previous post on the same subject some time ago. BRILLIANT! For a pauper like me, the Rizzoli book is great news. Thanks for the great post Pablo. -JZ

Anonymous said...

Indeed! What is it we dislike about the exploited (inauthentic) versions of the past we see in so-called custom cruisers or contemporary Harleys? The dubious taste of a certain nod to past; I made this point before: TE Lawrence wasn't a romantic when it came to motorbikes (in literature and politics, that's another story). If he had been, he'd have only had horses and rejected the vulgar BS! He wanted the fastest way of covering ground he could lay his hands on; and I believe if we could bring him back that's what he'd still want today, not a BS. My point is that when we attribute to some kind of authenticity to the past, what are we really doing? Are we really rebelling, seeking something genuine? Or are we secretly in compliance with an aspect of consumer capitalism and so are coopted ourselves without knowing it? In short, that there is something so comforting and alluring about a romantic authentic past may itself be a index of the very dubiousness of that gesture. Is the past a refuge, or is it rather a chimera, a projection of what we might call a false self? I love Hailwood and P Reed and the other all time greatest, but it seems beyond question that we live in the era of the greatest bike racer of all time, Rossi. Why do these past heroes still have the power to distract us from the present? Likewise we also live in the time of the best superbikes ever: BMW S1000RR, Aprilia RSV4 etc, etc. So, why are they somehow boring? Surely they aren't boring to ride. So what is this romantic allure of the past? What's up with that? That's my question, and really is a question. I'm as ready as anyone to be seduced by nostalgia, but I also wonder about it.
Mark D.

Anonymous said...

One of your most eloquent Vintagent posts. (or maybe I just like when you write about things other than machines...)

- Kelley Machiavelli

Anonymous said...

Paul,
cool tie in of fashion zeitgeist. I love that as well when you so effortlessly indulge in related tangents (...your Jean Cocteau blog my fave.)

Terpstra Industries

Anonymous said...

Paul, apart from being THE motorcycling historian, you are a true great writer_someone should tell the NYT and VF_thanks for all your great posts
Raymond L.

istvan said...

This is how we looked in 60s&70s.A good leather jacket cost about the same as the price of a good used motorbike.

Anonymous said...

"TE Lawrence wasn't a romantic when it came to motorbikes..."

I've always said the same thing about Jimi Hendrix when it came to choosing guitars: he didn't opt for some carefully weather-beaten 'vintage' model, with the period correct pickups, etc. - instead, he used a cheap production model Fender, a guitar used in surf bands, a guitar that any kid with a decent paper route could aspire to.

The cult of 'correct' fetish items has gotten way out of control...