November 9, 2014

Simply The Best: How Grace Jones Beat Andy Warhol and Germany

Andy Warhol introduced Keith Haring to Grace Jones. In 1985 Jones and Haring
collaborated in a performance staged at Paradise Garage in NY City.  Check out Warhol
and Haring featuring in Jones' video I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You).

My Grace Jones fascination started in 2013, when writing about her for the catalogue of the exhibition The End of the 20th Century. The Best is Yet To Come curated by Catherine Nichols and Eugen Blume at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art, Berlin.  For those who don’t know it yet: Grace Jones is an artist big time. I know that I’m hooked when I start taking over certain features: I had a Valeska Gert period in which I subconsciously adapted her way of talking and lately I noticed that my laugh goes a little higher than usual. Have you heard Grace Jones giggling? It’s such a cute high-pitch giggle, quite in contrast with the tough warrior queen image she has.  

Grace Jones at the Paradise Garage, 1985

To start with, let me break some tough news. You know that I am Andy Warhol’s biggest fan alive and this didn’t change. But the truth is that Grace Jones is even more intelligent than Warhol. Due to my in-depth online research, I can prove to you now that Jones beat Warhol exactly twice. On 12 January 1983 Warhol advised Jones to tone down her look because the general public would never accept her outrageousness. It proved to be the wrong advice - her high-top fade haircut and cross-dressing marked a turning point in the 1980s. Warhol was ashamed of himself for being so wrong (check the diaries). Yet Warhol tried again during a conversation with the artist in October 1984. He wanted to discourage Jones' obsession with fur coats and persuade her to collect diamonds instead: 
AW: "Diamonds would look great on you." 
GJ: "Well, I don't think I could get away with it. I would be held up in the street. But no one comes over to me and says 'give me that fur coat'."

Grace Jones draped in fur. Polaroid by Andy Warhol

Grace Jones also beat Germany. I did some expanded research since I happen to live in this country and the story could still happen today, no kidding. Not only because the TV show Wetten, dass..? is still on, which is quite unbelievable as it is - they are even talking about bringing Thomas Gotschalk back. But also because Germany has this strange idea of what is not racism (for those in Berlin, check out the AOK publicity in Hallesches Tor subway U6: “Wir wollen Sie so, wie Sie sind (“We want you the way you are” - which implies you are not normal but it’s ok anyway). In 1985, Jones was invited to appear on Wetten, dass..?, which is a show based on rather silly competitions, to sing her new hit Slave To The Rhythm. When she arrived, a stage had been prepared with African masks and in the center of it all was a picture of Jones’ distorted face of the LP-cover. Jones refused the scene and asked for a big cube on which she would stand with in the back an eagle projected on a white screen in the background. For Wetten, dass ...?  the final drop came when Jones decided to cover her face with a veil until the very last seconds of the song. The concert was cancelled. Yet Jones returned to the show in 1990 and oh boy, did she win! Covered with a veil she entered the stage, singing the song Amado Mio. On stage were several white male Roman statues. Towards the end of the song they suddenly became alive and started dancing the electric boogaloo.

Grace Jones entering the stage of Wetten, dass…? with veil, singing Amado Mio, 1990

Grace Jones is still kicking it. She did so in England in 2011, singing Slave to The Rhythm for the Queens jubilee concert while hula hooping during the entire performance. Needless to say that for Jones the visuals are an intrinsic part of her music. She has been working together with several artists over the years but my guess is that she herself has it very much under control. The last video she produced was in 2008 for her new album Hurricane, released just before the economic crisis hit America in the fall of that year, to which she commented: “There’s a meltdown and we have this economic crisis. But I watch the news and I just think, let the dying die.” Like many female artists Grace Jones works with her body as a medium and material, yet at the same time she is very smart about sabotaging the fetishizing and making exotic of her body. In Hurricane her body takes on different forms and materials; on the album cover it is transformed into chocolate. In the video Corporate Cannibal, Jones dissolves her body into a digital virus. But no matter how political Jones’ visuals are, there is one main question that interests the hosts of the talk shows I watched online: “What kind of man dares to approach you?”  So, in case you too want to know the answer to that, here it is: “If I like someone, I don't usually wait for them to approach me. I would just sit down and say: what's your name?” 

Addendum: during my research I met some more Grace Jones fans:

Grace Jones Islandlife in Asier's collection

Slave to the Rhythm in Patrick's collection

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