For someone who has built his music career on a steady stream of strong collaborations, Pharrell Williams already had a head start on easing into the role of art curator. And it should come as no surprise that the ensuing group show emerges as a general remix of Pop art and its au courant successors - although within a setting overseen by globally-based gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin, you can be sure that any exploration of post-Pop will be as provoking as it is playful.
Titled GIRL, a nod to the former Wallpaper* Design Awards judge's most recent album, the exhibition inaugurates Perrotin's new Paris space, the Salle de Bal, a 700 sq m annex located in a 17th century Hotel Particulier down the street from his original gallery in the Marais.
In an early walkthrough of the show on Saturday, co-curator Ashok Adicéam said the project came together in roughly 60 days, with Williams constantly weighing in on the selection and flow of the show. 'Pharrell is popular and he is into popular art. Most of the artists - not all - are pop. And there's a capacity [among] these artists to do this reversal of pop culture itself and within a thematic on the image of women. So I think that works well when it comes to the way Pharrell sees things.'
During a press conference, Williams suggested that the show should be labeled 'An education of Pharrell Williams' and said the collaborative process is like a 'crash course' into artists' lives.
Just don't expect to see the multi-hyphenate taking up painting or collage anytime soon. Positioned in front of Guy Limone's GIRL (a riff on William's album cover in which the length of the tiny female figurines, when lined up, would equal the average height of a French woman), he told journalists, 'I only do things that I feel ambitious about or feel I could bring something too… and I really just get such a kick out of watching other artists do what they do. It's nice to be on the receiving end.'
In fact, Williams did a lot more than watch as pal Daniel Arsham conceived The Future Pharrell in his signature medium, broken glass. As part of the process for creating the life-size cast, Pharrell found himself breathing through a straw, his face covered in plaster.
Among the 37 artists featured, 16 are women and several of their works can be found in the final room of the show's sequence; no XY-chromosome artists allowed. On one wall, Agnès Thurnauer's appropriation of Gustave Courbet's L'Origine du Monde (in this case, the nude pelvis is overlaid with feminized names of famous artists - think 'Pietra Mondrian' and 'Jacqueline Pollock'); on another, Sophie Calle's personal account of her late puberty.
Williams fielded no shortage of questions about the depiction of nudity and idealized beauty in his videos vis-à-vis the depiction of women in the show. 'What we were trying to accomplish with this project was to house many different facets, many different perspectives of women,' Williams explained. 'We want these works to be curious and spark conversation - not controversy - conversation. Without conversation, there is no conversion. And with no conversion, there's no conviction.'
Adicéam pointed out that 12 artists, including Takashi Murakami (who used Williams' wedding photos by Terry Richardson), Kaws and Laurent Grasso, made works in homage to Williams - and that most of them had pre-existing friendships. Rob Pruitt's Studio Loveseat began with both artists applying magic markers to an Ikea sofa and ended as a pastiche of Pharrell's visual universe. 'He has this great capacity of listening and learning,' said Adicéam of Williams. 'He makes fellow artists - the ones he works with - very comfortable; well, he makes you feel like a star. From there, there are good vibrations. And what comes out from that is always singular.'
When the show ends on 25 June, the two custom-painted bathrooms by Jean-Michel Othoniel and Pierre Le-Tan will remain permanent features, thankfully. When asked which work he would choose as a hypothetical souvenir, Williams paused before replying, 'I just want to move my family in and just live in here. Each piece is just as important. It would be quite the home. It is quite the home.'