In Daniela Comani’s movie universe, gender assumptions get flipped

Daniela Comani's "Beau de Jour" (2012), inkjet print.
(Charlie James Gallery)

Turning the tables to switch the gender in pictures of men and women is a fairly simplistic strategy for an artist. For her second solo exhibition at Charlie James Gallery, Berlin-based Daniela Comani manages to make it work in surprisingly effective ways.

Just in time for the playful inanity of Hollywood awards season, “My Film History – Daniela Comani’s Top 100 Films” does Conceptual art flip-flops in altered one-sheet posters and manipulated DVD covers. They span movie history.

The hairy ape atop the Empire State Building, batting away airplanes like flies, is now “Queen Kong.” Gender-bending David Bowie stars in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” Beijing’s Forbidden City is the fortress-home in which “The Last Empress” is imprisoned.

Some of the illustrations come across as simple one-liners, using sharp contrast to reasonably disclose the familiar dominance of male perspectives in cinema. But others unpeel like onions, exposing resonant layers that might make your eyes water.


Most wicked is “Beau de Jour,” in which a ravishing Catherine Deneuve, naked, gives a come-hither look over her pale white shoulder at the potential movie-customer. Suddenly, the status of the five handsome men arrayed behind her is transformed.

In Luis Buñuel’s 1967 movie, Deneuve was the ethereal object of male desire, the latter portrayed not as monolithic but as representing a diverse range of characters. In Comani’s ad, she is now the actor (in more ways than one) possessing diverse tastes in men, racking up beaus at her own whim.

With a decisive gesture, Comani has also defaced Deneuve’s porcelain features with a small black mustache. The actress assumes a ravenous role commonly ascribed to men.

The mustache, of course, is a nod to the one Marcel Duchamp famously scratched on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, along with the punning letters L.H.O.O.Q. (In their slangy, run-together French pronunciation, the letters say, “She has a hot behind.”) Buñuel’s movie title, “Belle de Jour,” was itself a pun, playing on belle de nuit, French vernacular for a prostitute and a twist on the movie’s married, sexually frustrated housewife secretly working weekday afternoons in a Parisian brothel.

Comani’s deftly altered poster implies that the movie house, home of the 20th century’s distinctive and dominant new art form, is itself a house of ill repute. Marvelous pleasure can certainly be had there, but there is just as certainly a cost.

Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 687-0844, through Feb. 21. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays.

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