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The Death Instinct

December 12, 2014 | by

The autobiography of one of France’s most notorious criminals.

Jacques_Mesrine

Mesrine’s mugshot, 1973.

On the morning of November 2, 1979, a gold BMW pulled up behind a blue truck stopped at a stoplight in Porte de Clignancourt, in northern Paris. After a moment, a tarp covering the back of the truck opened to reveal four men with rifles. They opened fire in unison, blasting holes into the windshield. The man driving the BMW was hit fifteen times; the woman in the passenger seat was blinded and crippled by the attack. Her pet poodle died, too. And that was the end of Jacques Mesrine, France’s public enemy number one.

For nearly twenty years, Mesrine had humiliated the country’s judicial system with repeated high-profile bank robberies, murders, and daring prison escapes. But now the police had caught up to him. His bloodied corpse laid limp in his car, left out for the paparazzi. One of the officers tossed Mesrine’s wig, riddled with bullets, onto the car hood like roadkill into a dumpster. That last detail comes from one of the many YouTube videos you can watch of the shooting’s aftermath, waiting to be compared with Jean-François Richet’s 2008 two-part film Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One, both starring Vincent Cassel. And through the bullet holes of mythology, you can see in this tableau a bit of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and a little bit of Jean-Paul Belmondo dying on the pavement, calling Jean Seberg a bitch.

This was a fitting death—and has been a fitting afterlife—for Mesrine. He was France’s most famous criminal not only because of his crimes but for the way he hot-wired the machinery of fame. While he was on the most-wanted list, he gave interviews and was photographed for the cover of Paris Match. Two years before his assassination, Mesrine wrote his autobiography, The Death Instinct, while incarcerated in the inescapable La Santé Prison, from which he later escaped. It was 1977, a bleak time for culture and politics: in England, it was “God Save the Queen,” with Johnny Rotten whinnying “no future” into recorded oblivion; in Germany, it was the Red Army Faction, their crimes, and their deaths in Stammheim Prison. For many in France, a few decades out of existentialism, the late seventies were a time of startling political conservatism, a time when the hopes of ’68 were being actively erased. It was this regime of erasure that Mesrine fought against, and that killed him two years later. Read More »

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Present and Absent

May 16, 2014 | by

The art world comes to Mexico City.

KOMPLOT

Mexico City’s Material Art Fair. Photo: Komplot

In a few hours, a conference room on the fourth floor of Mexico City’s Hilton Reforma will swing open and the third day of the Material Art Fair will commence. But it’s five a.m., and I’m on the sixth floor, in the heated indoor pool, with about five near-naked and naked artists and a bottle of mescal bobbing in the shallow end. None of us has a room here. Lenin said you can’t trust artists because they can navigate all levels of society. In this case, that means all floors of the Hilton.

The evening began yesterday at a Mariachi bar. I proceeded to a store selling giant micheladas that had the mouthfeel of a Papa John’s pizza in a cup. Then I went to a grimy rave. Then to the end-of-the-world wealth of a penthouse party in Polanco where the free sushi meant that at least two people were doing blow off of chopsticks, and where, in line for a marble bathroom indecorously coated in piss, I met a Spanish developer named Iggy who was building an entire village with Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architecture firm, on a stretch of virgin Mexican coast. After that, I picked up more mescal and sat on the desolate, please-abduct-me corner of a Centro Histórico street, pulling from the same bottle now bobbing in the Hilton pool’s shallow end.

I live in Miami, where for weeks the talk had been about Mexico City. When do you get in? Where are you staying? The contemporary art fairs Zona Maco and Material both opened in the first week of February. Why not go? To work in the culture industry is to justify any type of vacation or prolonged period of dicking around as research.

As a supposed arbiter of transcendence, art and its surrounding world has of late succumbed to stasis and homogeny. Things feel the same. An unceasing focus on the contemporary has culture in the doldrums of a present-tense continuous, defined by a million identical white-cube galleries and purple-carpeted convention halls. But it takes a lot of movement to feel like you’re staying in one place. Everyone—collectors, artists, curators, handlers, advisors—is launched into a ceaseless grand tour of the capitals of capital, armed with VIP cards to the nameless Biennials and Fairs wobbling skyward Babel-style.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Miami, which to many seems an art fair with a city attached. The parties and the velvet-rope-divided subjectivities are as much a part of a naturalized cultural terrain as the academy and the museum are in other cities. For artists here, drinking and schmoozing are not just that—they’re praxis. So I booked a flight to Mexico City. Everyone was going. Read More »

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