Gigi Gaston’s 1960s-era megastardom didn’t come easy. There was the nomadic upbringing, abandonment, a brief stint as a child laborer at the hands of ferocious French nuns, lost lovers, accusations of murder, and, once she made it big, the requisite tabloid frenzy. If pop culture has taught us anything, though, it’s that stars like Gigi don’t make it much past 30. And true to form, in 1973, at the age of 31, Gigi vanished. Never to be seen or heard from again.
If only any of it were real.
Click Image to View Our Gallery of Gigi Gaston
That’s the punch line of Josh Gosfield’s solo show, “Gigi Gaston: The Black Flower” at the Steven Kasher gallery in New York (on view through November 25). With the love, care, and attention to detail of a fiercely loyal fanboy, Gosfield has composed a dazzling shrine to a pop star that never was. It’s an exercise that is as technically challenging as it is conceptually rigorous. And Gosfield, a former art director of New York magazine, revels in every minute aspect of Gigi’s pop-culture universe.
The sweet hum of one of Gigi’s pop ballads wafts through the gallery, playing from a small “period” television that’s screening a “Jean-Luc Godard-directed” music video on a loop (fortunately for Gosfield the art world allows for such identity theft—indulges it, even…). The song, “ Je Suis Perdue,” brings to mind the raspy acoustics of French first lady Carla Bruni, a figure to whom Gigi’s resemblance is, I suspect, no accident.
The Photoshopped posters, album covers, photographs, and ephemera that follow are delightfully authentic. Gosfield mastered bubbly 1960s typography; he set images of his fictional starlet on sepia-toned newsprint with frayed, crumpled corners; he wrote and designed news stories in true-to-life publications like Paris Match, Pop Weekly, and ABC; and he shot a series of album covers bearing the logo of now-defunct jazz label Disques Vogue. It’s not hard to buy into it—the catalogue (a signed, limited edition artwork in its own right) even comes the sort of plastic slipcover you’d expect to find while perusing vintage magazines at a flea market.
“Documentary footage” playing in the back of the gallery deserves a bigger screen and decent sound equipment ( it is available online as well.). For this one, Gosfield got some of his famous friends in on the gag. There are bon mots from Barneys New York creative figurehead Simon Doonan, thoughtful (and totally believable) commentary from real-life Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis, and an outburst from a brooding Frenchman posing as Gigi’s only son, Giacomo (the filmmaker eggs him on from behind the camera: “Where is your mother? Is she even alive? Are you protecting her? If you’re not going to say anything, what is the point of this interview? Did she abandon you too? Where is Gigi!?”).
Gosfield and the gallery are pretty open about Gigi’s non-existence, so the ruse only goes so far. The project does, however, riff on tabloid culture and even, perhaps, such recent fiascos as James Frey and JT Leroy. It also brings to mind Duchampian personae like Rose Sélavy and R. Mutt as well as more rigorous identity constructions cum artistic endeavors like those of new media artist Lynn Hershman Leeson. Leeson’s Roberta Breitmore project/performance/”time-based sculpture” from the mid-1970s was so authentic it bordered on illegal. “Roberta” had her own quirks, mannerisms, a distinctive, scrawling handwriting, and a very concerned therapist; she had dental records, credit cards, a checking account, and even a temporary driver’s license; she wore a red and white polka dot skirt and carried a green leather bag; she lived, for a while, in the Dante Residence Hotel in San Francisco and advertised in local papers for roommates. As many as four different actresses played Breitmore at various live performances before Leeson “retired” her in 1978.
Gosfield could take a cue or two from Leeson. You can almost see the headlines now: “Gigi Gaston reemerges after 36 years for one-night-only performance at New York’s Carlyle Hotel!”
Rachel Wolff is a New York-based writer and editor who has covered art for New York, ARTnews, and Manhattan.