les presses du réel
Handsome as a girl
Jean-Luc Mercié
(excerpt, p. 5-10)

When Pierre Molinier died, in 1976, it would not have taken long to draw up the list of publications about his work. In all, seven titles were worthy of attention. It was the preface written by André Breton for the slim catalogue to the exhibition at L'Étoile Scellée (1957) that established his reputation. After the film by Raymond Borde, this text was twice reprinted, first in a cinema magazine, Positif, then in a fascicle brought out by Losfeld at Le Terrain Vague, featuring six reproductions in colour (1965). A small book about Molinier's painting—a brave if unsatisfactory effort—was eventually published by Éditions Jean-Jacques Pauvert in 1969.
As for the photography, just the one lavish but fragile volume had made it into print, in Munich, with an introductory essay by Peter Gorsen (Rogner & Bernhard, 1972). To this handsome volume, which from the outset was almost impossible to get hold of in France, can be added an issue of the journal Mizue (Tokyo, 1971) and the catalogue of a group show in Lucerne, Transformer, Aspekte der Travestie (1974). And that was it.
It should also be noted that during his lifetime Molinier had very few exhibitions. Apart from salons in Bordeaux and Paris and one or two group shows, in a career of fifty years he was granted only one proper solo show, which was organised by Breton in a tiny gallery.
When, weary of the world and of himself, he took a revolver and made his exit, Molinier was known only to a small circle of connoisseurs of erotic art. Yet, while difficult, of limited appeal, and seemingly fated to disappear, his work had nevertheless won itself a place in the networks of international fetishism.
Now began the posthumous life of Molinier's art, a life striking in its resilience. 1979: a retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou and publication of two books, Cent Photographies érotiques (Images Obliques), and Molinier (Bernard Letu Éditeur, Geneva), featuring the paintings. In 1992 Pierre Petit published a landmark biography, Molinier, une vie d'enfer. It read like a page-turner and offered huge quantities of information, plus previously unpublished documents, reviving curiosity in both the man and the work. But the real event, in 1995 (only twenty years late), was the publication in Bordeaux of Molinier's masterpiece, Le Chaman et ses créatures (William Blake & Co).
From then on, the most important part of the oeuvre was available in bookshops. Roughly speaking, this boiled down to some fifty paintings and drawings (Pauvert, Letu), about a hundred portraits and self-portraits (Gorsen, Images Obliques), and finally, most importantly, the fifty photomontages of Le Chaman et ses créatures. The great merit of this corpus is that to some it offers discovery and to others reassessment. For many years to come, all the critics—and I myself was no exception to the rule—would take and repeat the information given in the biographical note of the 1957 catalogue, appended to Breton's preface. Now, this note was written by Molinier, not by Breton, who simply touched up the style a bit. This subtle self-penned auto-hagiography was not much more reliable than the Master's words as uncritically swallowed and endlessly peddled by the disciples, cohorts, partners and blissful believers of his final years, who eventually established their vulgate as the gospel truth.
Some of these companions did at least have the good idea of getting Molinier to talk into a microphone. He had a field day: he was endlessly provocative, inventing events and offering false confessions. The Entretiens with Jean Bernard and Pierre Chaveau, recorded in 1971 and 1972 and published in 2000, consecrated the shaman's official discourse and established the scandalous image that he was so careful to leave. These desultory conversations, these tirades—digressive and droll, interlarded with laughter, spoken in a high-pitched voice with a South-Western accent as thick as cassoulet—fascinate, surprise and inform, at least as regards the shaman's method, manner and intentions. They freeze the myth and that is what makes them interesting. Sometimes they even dazzle rather than enlighten. Since Molinier, as we now know, had a rather loose relation to the truth, these colourful interviews need to be handled with great care.
But then, starting in 2001, the archives, accessible at last, began to yield up their secrets. The reverse of the official version.
The personal writings and private notebooks, brought together in a single volume titled Je suis né homme-putain, were published by Kamel Mennour and Biro Éditeur in 2005. For the first time, we glimpse the wounded man behind the legend, as he doffs his mask and shows his true face. One chapter had ended, another was beginning. The myth began to recede before the reality of history.
The archives are also a store of unknown images: working prints annotated on the back, successive states, variants, prints retouched in matt pencil, negatives reworked in graphite, mattes, cut-outs, and botched and abandoned photos that remain richly informative. But this is not the OEUVRE; it is what went on behind the scenes. It is time to revise the numbers.
In the category of “graphic works”—in which he includes pictures, drawings, prints, sculptures and masks—Pierre Petit has inventoried 460 pieces. If we add unlocated canvases and drawings, we can with only a narrow margin of error round that up to 500 works. As for photographs, including portraits, self-portraits, photomontages and slides, Petit arrives at 397 numbered items. No doubt he counted only finished prints, without worrying about revised proofs that exist in only one or two copies, or the various and very numerous poses that constitute series of portraits and self-portraits. Thus, for this book, we digitized nearly 2,000 different prints, which naturally are of very mixed interest and quality. We did so for one simple reason: the process of making the images interested me as much as the museumquality prints themselves. I have selected 730 of these. We shall see why in the pages that follow.
Pierre Molinier : autres titres

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