A familiar face, recycled again

Bette Midler (right) in the Marc Jacobs Spring-Summer 2016 campaign

Bette Midler (right) in the Marc Jacobs Spring-Summer 2016 campaign

The American fashion designer Marc Jacobs, often presented as a warholian figure in his chosen industry for his playful art-versus-commerce ambivalence—a posture he once assumed by posing on the cover of Interview wearing the artist and magazine founder’s famous white wig—has unveiled a new advertising campaign illustrating the ceaseless recycling of images that defines much of contemporary creation and extends the appropriationist legacy of pop art. An obvious Warhol citation, the ad displays a striking portrait of Maria Callas, appearing as a print on a range of clothing, the legendary opera singer’s face turned into a pattern in the manner of the artist’s silkscreens of Elvis, Marilyn or the Campbell’s soup can. Bette Midler is fronting the campaign, wrapped in the Callas print.

It is likely that Mr Jacobs first discovered the Callas picture in the pages of Diana Vreeland’s classic coffee-table book Allure. He contributed a new foreword to a 2014 reissue of the book, a collection of inspirational images that the legendary former editor of Vogue published as a style manifesto in 1980. Vreeland was so taken by this photograph of Callas as Medea that she had it hung on her office wall. 

The face is wild, the eyes possessed, the lips distorted into an almost cartoonish scream : it is a photograph of the tragédienne interpreting one of her most memorable roles, the doomed sorceress Medea, in a 1958 performance. Interestingly, it is the very same face that Guy Peellaert appropriated for Opera de Monaco, a digital painting he produced in the late 1990s as part of the Twentieth Century Dreams series. The work depicts Callas as an hysterical dragon-woman stalking the « Christina O », her lover Aristotle Onassis’ palatial yacht, attacking the shipping tycoon with a glass bottle and sending a theatrical spurt of his blood across the composition as Jacqueline Kennedy, a picture of serene innocence in the background, looks out to the Monte Carlo bay from the deck.

Guy Peellaert, Opera de Monaco, from Twentieth Century Dreams (1995-1999)