Leon Bakst (Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg), revolutionized theatrical design both in scenery and in costume, he belonged to that young generation of European artists who rebelled against 19th Century stage realism, which had become pedantic and literal, without imagination or theatricality. His designs for the Ballets Russes, especially during its heyday (1909–14), were opulent, innovative, and extraordinary, and his influence on fashion and interior design was widespread (Part I)
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Nouveau Musée National de Monaco Archive
To mark the 150th birthday of Leon Bakst, the famous stage-designer for the Ballets Russes, the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco presents the exhibition “Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Leon Bakst”, that highlights Bakst’s finest achievements in stage design, while also revealing his decisive influence in the field of textile design. The exhibition features more than 150 drawings, models and costumes in a unique, scenography. These pieces are documented by numerous period archives and accompanied by the works of artists such as Jean Cocteau, Valentine Hugo and George Barbier. The highlight of the exhibition is a room that contains an set of 40 costume drawings imagined by Leon Bakst for ballets and operas. They are arranged so as to bring out relationships between forms and colours, but also between the characters depicted. These drawings had a very particular function in the production as they were created for the benefit of the costume-maker of each outfit. Aside from their documentary interest and their archival importance for the company’s productions, the artistic value of Bakst’s drawings was immediately recognised and they were exhibited and published on numerous occasions during the 1910s. The work “Untitled” (2014), by Nick Mauss, is presented in the room dedicated to the confrontation between “Spectre de la rose” and “l’Après-midi d’un faune”, intermittently hides and reveals the presentation of the two ballets as two painted curtains on automated serpentine tracks stutter open and closed. The work is a manifestation of gesture, both painted and temporal, and a kind of hybrid between architecture and choreography that questions the inherent melodrama in (self-)presentation. Moving in dialogue, according to a pre-programmed sequence of positions, the curtains create varying tableaux and volumes of space as they glide and stand still — as if possessed. Filling the exhibition space, and the viewer’s field of vision, they then retract again to their starting positions, as two individual columns of painted cloth. Also, Bakst’s influence on fashion is on display in a special presentation of several models from Yves Saint Laurent’s 1991collection “SAINT LAURENT rive gauche”, inspired by the drawings and costumes for “Shéhérazade” and “Narcisse”.
Info: Curators: Celia Bernasconi and John Ellis Bowlt, Exhibition Design : Nick Mauss, Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, Villa Sauber, 19 avenue Princesse Grace, Monaco, Duration: 23/10/16-15/1/17, Days & Hours: Daily 10:00-18:00, www.nmnm.mc