When France’s Wizard of Oz—Jean-Paul Goude—steps out from behind the backstage curtain, it’s always to thunderous applause. The artist, photographer, filmmaker, art director, creator of ingenious advertising campaigns and choreographer of spectacular live events is being celebrated with a first Paris retrospective, Goudmalion, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (until March 18). When Goude gets going, the action is fast-forward. The show opens with elements of his most extravagant creation, the July 14, 1989 Bicentennial parade in Paris celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The show starts at the entrance, where one of 30 giant mechanical dolls that twirled down the Champs-Elysées stands with her vast skirt cut away to display Goude’s cleverly devised mechanics. Stretching almost the entire length of the museum’s grand nave, the gigantic steam-spouting locomotive that led the festivities is flanked by video screens replaying the big event, showing that when it rains—and snows—on Goude’s parades, it’s part of his plan. Excerpts—with English commentary—show the British contingent marching in a downpour, thanks to Paris Fire Department hoses, while the Russians were powdered with artificial snow.
Goude’s art installations are arranged with the same signature panache: A live model swathed in evening gown and pearls glides mysteriously around the exhibition, while two busts of his iconic muse, Jamaican-American singer Grace Jones, indulge in a dramatic face-off. Other galleries trace Goude’s career from childhood drawings of Indians through his years as art director of Esquire (featuring his oil-on-photo painting of Chairman Mao breasting the waves of the Yangtze River with a rubber Donald Duckie) to such witty advertising-clip gems as a be-feathered Vanessa Paradis swinging in a birdcage for Chanel’s Coco perfume and the irresistible adventures of the Kodakettes, mischievous kids clad in red-and-white stripes, for Kodak, that brought smiles from both parents and children visiting the show on a recent Sunday afternoon. Bravo, Monsieur Goude! Your show is a delight.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of France Today