Pin-up girls – and one man – go mainstream

John Lichfield
Monday 24 January 2011 01:00

French and American approaches to eroticism or, if you prefer, exploitation of women, collided bizarrely in the centre of Paris yesterday.

What may have been the world's largest ever auction of original works of "glam art" – previously known as "pin-ups" – was held in a legendary location just off the Champs Elysées.

The legendary location, opposite the austere and barricaded Chinese embassy, close to the beautiful American Cathedral, was the Crazy Horse Saloon, the home of elegant striptease for exactly half a century. The nightclub, known for dressing its dancers in colourful stage lights and nothing else, opened its doors in the daytime to an auction of original pin-up paintings, drawings and photographs from the 1940s to the present day.

By the usual standards of the Crazy Horse Saloon, the scores of women, and one man, in the 450 images on sale were absurdly overdressed. Collectors were expected to pay up to €10,000 (£8,500) for the original artwork of Pin-up in red bikini by Peter Driben, first seen in Whisper magazine in 1949; or about the same amount for an original print by Guy Le Baube of a woman pulling up her jeans in Saint-Jean-Cap- Ferrat in 1987.

The only man in the show was a classic bare-chested photograph of the American actor Steve "the king of cool" McQueen (1930-1980).

The organiser of the exhibition, the Parisian art auctioneer Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, said he chose the Crazy Horse for its atmosphere of "fun and glamour". Although "glam art" is now much collected, he said the exhibition did not want to take itself too seriously.

All the same, Mr Cornette de Saint-Cyr argues that the pin-up is not a symbol of female exploitation but "played its part in the emancipation of women".

A classic pin-up from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s, he suggests, presented women as sensual and erotic but it also broke down the Victorian image of a woman as passive and inert. Pin-ups are objects of desire but they are also playful, humorous and intelligent.

The first pin-ups were the "Gibson girls" drawn by Charles Dana Gibson at the start of the 20th century. Sought-after American pin-up artists include Okley and Peter Driben. European masters of the form, often more provocative than their American predecessors, include French artists such as Aslan, Loris and Eric Neveu.

The demand for original pin-up art is expanding rapidly, Mr Cornette de Saint-Cyr says. It is now, like original plates for comic books, regarded as a branch of the art market in its own right.

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