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The Vanity of Allegory also features "Fragile hands collapse under pressure" (1999), which is a byproduct of a special project for which you commissioned a wax effigy of yourself from the Musée Grévin in Paris. Since 1999, you’ve been taking photographs of yourself alongside your wax double every year on the same day. Could you tell us more about this project? What actually happened to the hands?

It’s a project I’m doing with my gallery in Paris, Yvon Lambert . I told Yvon that I wanted a wax model, and he said, let’s go to the Musée Grévin and have their people do it. It’s meant as a very straight reversal quotation of Oscar Wilde , where Dorian Gray can live life with no change because the painting takes everything. As soon as I started this project, things started happening to me. I fell, and now I have this scar on my head; I had an operation on my back; I have another scar here [points at his cheek]. I kept falling down. So: the wax figure is flawless, while I’m the one being ravished – the exact opposite of the Dorian Grey thing.


Douglas Gordon, Fragile Hans Collapse under Pressure, 1999


So, to document this, you have your picture taken every year?

I’m supposed to do this. Let’s say: yes, it’s good for the idea.

And what about the hand?

Well, there are others. But this one in the show is the “fragile hand.”



Exhibition view
Photo: Eva Maria Ocherbauer

Which fell off?

No, it didn’t even go on. What they do is this: they use a sculptor to form the head, but the hands are made with a cast. It’s a weird and nice thing: for the head they take an artist, so it’s an interpretation. The hands are casts so realistic that they even have your fingerprints on them. It’s kind of bizarre. So when I had my hands done, they said, oh, Mister Gordon, we’re sorry, your hands were so fragile that they collapsed under pressure [looks at his rather big hands]. They don’t look very fragile to me [laughs]. So I kind of liked the joke. But, you know, the first finger to fall off was my ring finger, which happened just as I was having this break-up with my girlfriend. I like to read this as a sign. But then the next finger will be this one [holds up his little finger], so the hand will be like this [makes a blessing gesture]. Pax. It’s the nearest I get to the Pope, when my pinky finger falls off.

If you look at the artworks and the films you’ve chosen, there’s a definite taste for camp and queer motifs. Images like Warhol and Duchamp in drag are part of the gay canon, just as Burt Lancaster’s The Swimmer, Kenneth Anger’s films, or Bette Davis in All about Eve.

. Oh, I don’t know where this comes from. If you look at my work, normally it’s not camp. I’m asking myself: where does this come from?

Still, you make a great Marilyn Monroe. Would you say that Vanitas also has a burlesque and sexy side?

Well, I don’t know about sexy. About the burlesque: I would absolutely say yes.

Questions: Ulrich Clewing

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