The Model as Muse/Becoming Art: My Interview with Christy Turlington
I have always thought of Christy as an influential figure both in the fashion and the art world. She’s so very relevant that it doesn’t matter if we are staring at a Calvin Klein’s Eternity ad (the first of which was shot in 1989) or the latest Louis Vuitton campaign (launched in the fall of 2010). Her grace is absolutely timeless. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Phillips de Pury for a private viewing of the pieces offered in the Photographs auction and I saw a beautiful portrait of Christy by Albert Watson taken in New York City in 1990. The image not only struck me as sensuous and mysterious, but also reminded me how much of an icon Christy is and how many artists and photographers have been inspired by her extraordinary features.
Since I have been exploring the intersection of fashion and art and the whole idea of the model as a muse I thought about asking Christy a few questions about art and about “becoming” art. Here is our interview:
A lot of the images where you have posed for big-ticket fashion photographers end up in auction houses, museums and private collections. You have become art. How does that feel to you?
Well, as a collector of photography myself it feels both strange and good. I don’t think of myself generally as an object of art but I have on occasion felt that I have contributed to images that may be seen as works of art.
I love to think about the possibility of expanding anyone’s work product into different realms and directions. As a model, your photographs have moved beyond fashion. Which has been your most fulfilling collaboration with a photographer and why?
I once collaborated with Kurt Markus on a series for British Vogue that were based on the idea of a book of self portraits called “I, Camera.” Basically, Kurt would let me choose the location for his large format camera that he would then set up in various rooms of the Chateau Marmot Hotel in Los Angeles. Once the camera was in place and set, he would leave the room or turn away and I would pose and then press the cable release. It was such a nice way to work. It was really just the two of us and we only took a few frames for each photograph. I wonder if I have any of them...
In 1993 Ralph Pucci commissioned mannequins based on your face for the Met’s Costume Institute. The same year the Met said that you represented “The Face of the 20th Century”. Wow! I can imagine how big that feels. You are not only making art but making history! Why don’t you tell me a little bit about how did all that happen? It’s a major milestone in your career and life, I assume.
I was obviously quite flattered to become a face associated with the Met’s Fashion Institute back in 1993 (I can’t believe it was that long ago!) I remember hearing from Harold Koda, the curator of the exhibition, and then squeezing in a series of sittings with the sculptor over the course of several weeks before Pucci completed the mannequins. A little known fact from the exhibit is that they made versions of several mannequins from my face, including faces of men and children.
Marc Jacobs and Harold Koda did an extraordinary job with the exhibition “The Model as Muse”. You were an important part of it. What did you like best about that show, particularly considering that it was put together in 2009? Basically you were looking at it with the experience of someone with more than 25 years of modeling under your belt…
I never actually saw the “Model as Muse” exhibition but I do have a book as a memento. I was out of the country at the time of the gala and then thought it would be weird to be there as a spectator having participated in such an intimate way. That it has been twenty five years that I have been contributing to the fashion industry as a model is rather mind blowing in and of itself.
What do you miss the most about the late 80s and 90s in terms of art and artists? If you could make a reference to the art world or an anecdote that you remember from those days…
I remember my early days in New York when Andy Warhol and Keith Haring were alive and out all the time. I was lucky to have met them along with Francesco Clemente, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons as a teenager. It was a magical time to grow up in this city.
I’m sure you have an art collection, when did you start it and how did you develop it?
I started to collect photography years ago and I focused on collecting nudes and flower prints. The staples of my photography collection are two stunning Irving Penn Tulip prints and a nude of an African woman reclining. I also have another favorite, a Sugimoto print taken inside the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and my husband gave me two gorgeous Thomas Struth photos for my birthday a few years ago of the neighborhood we live in but taken around the time I first moved to New York City. I have a great Robert Frank of some boys in drag taken in the city around the same time as well...
Who’s your favorite artist(s)? Rothko, Cy Twombly, Modigliani
What’s your favorite wine? Quintessa
What designer(s) are you wearing lately? Isabel Marant
Best museum in the world? The Tate Modern
Most avant-garde city in terms of design? Tokyo
There’s no question why Christy has had the phenomenal career and the very fulfilling life that she enjoys. Being a muse is not only about being beautiful, but also about having the charisma and the grace to inspire others as well as the ability to engage those around you. Christy has it all.