Francesco Vezzoli Opens Up About His Show at MOCA LA, Jeanne Moreau, and That Church

On April 27, Milan-based artist Francesco Vezzoli, best known for deconstructing Hollywood in projects featuring household names like Lady Gaga, Sharon Stone, and Roman Polanski, opens his solo show “Cinema Vezzoli" at MOCA in Los Angeles. The exhibition is part of “The Trinity," a series presented at three international institutions, MAXXI in Rome, MOCA, and New York's MoMA PS1. Vezzoli sat down with artnet News during the exhibition installation to talk about his appreciation for cinema and the next set of artistic challenges ahead.

Portrait of Francesco Vezzoli FRANCESCO BY FRANCESCO: BEFORE & AFTER (2002) Photo by Francesco Scavullo

Portrait of Francesco Vezzoli
Francesco by Francesco: Before & After (2002)
Photo by Francesco Scavullo.

What is Cinema Vezzoli?
It's about taking over one of the most iconic institutions in LA—MOCA—and its most iconic building. We've constructed a big cinema inside, a big movie poster room, and a needlework Hollywood hall of fame. I've been working with MOCA senior curator Alma Ruiz and the newly appointed director Philippe Vergne, and they have allowed me to do everything I wanted! In the show, there's a huge tapestry of a 1932 Greta Garbo movie called As You Desire Me. And that is the artist speaking to you and saying: Look at my art at whatever perspective [you choose]. This exhibition may seem very ambiguous in terms of [examining notions] of fear, desire, fascination, and repulsion, but my work is a study in ambiguity. I'm not giving you answers. I'm posing questions.

You create fake movie posters, movie trailers and commercials for mock products. Why manipulate and toy with reality and fiction?
It's like what Bruce Nauman would call a sleight of hand. It's a little conceptual gesture but with expensive objects and production. It is a sleight of hand because many people who see Caligula think it's the trailer for a real movie. Interestingly someone came to [preview] the show and said, “Oh, so, you make your videos from footage material," and I said, “No, no! You're killing me! I made all this myself." I made a real commercial film by the real Roman Polanski with the real Michelle Williams and the real Natalie Portman for a fake perfume. [Watch a trailer for that film here.] It took me a year and a half to wrap that up—[that's] a real value to the work. I've never paid anybody [to be in a film] so one can't say, “Oh, it's Gagosian funding this extravaganza." This is not a critical claim; it is a production claim.

Francesco Vezzoli, Milla Jovovich in Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, 2005, video, courtesy Tate Modern, London and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, Photo by Matthias Vriens

Francesco Vezzoli, Milla Jovovich in Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula (2005) video, courtesy Tate Modern,
London, and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. 
Photo by Matthias Vriens.

You've worked with many movie stars. Is there one that has been your muse?
I made a point of never befriending stars [I work with]. I felt that was inappropriate and exploitative. My artwork is a study of their public identity. Of all the ones I have worked with, Jeanne Moreau has had a great impact on me.

What is your fascination with movie stars?
I was a provincial kid from Brescia [Italy] embroidering faces of movies stars from Italian cinema. [Stars like] Catherine Deneuve and Jeanne Moreau were huge; I grew up watching them as a kid. Strangely enough the ones who wouldn't stop the traffic today are the ones who are more in my heart because they retain an aura that still intimidates me. I wanted my cake, and now I have had my cake to the point of being nauseated by it, and I'm happy. All these desires for stardom or for getter closer to the craftsmanship of these people have been fully fulfilled. I've kind of arrived at the end of my fascination with Hollywood. And I am no longer making videos with stars. This show is a summation from Brescia all the way to Hollywood and back. That's why I moved back to Milan, I live a different life now.

So what is next?
There's going to be MoMA PS1, which was supposed to be a church. Now I'm under criminal investigation, I'm being accused of attempted exportation of a church [from the south of Italy] to PS1, which is pretty funny. The church is privately owned and in such ruins that the owner was supposed to destroy it. So, I thought: “Okay, we'll do [the church] a favor, put it on a pedestal, and bring it to PS1." A curator I respect said, “Finally—you finally found a wall in your path. Nobody could stop you from getting Lady Gaga, nobody could stop you from getting Roman Polanski, and all of a sudden you find that you cannot get a church." This is the reason I've stopped doing projects [with movie stars]: It's so easy for me to contact actresses now, and I think it would be dishonest to the audience and curators to claim a challenge or difficulty that is not there. But I can't get the church, so now Napoleon is ready to go and find his Waterloo!

Francesco Vezzoli, All About Anni – Anni vs. Marlene (The Saga Begins), 2006, digital print on paper, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Francesco Vezzoli, All About Anni – Anni vs. Marlene (The Saga Begins), 2006, digital print on paper. Image: Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.