Valérie Belin uses photography to explore the human body as a powerful vessel for abstraction and projected meaning. She has photographed live models and mannequins, masks and cardsharks, dancers and bodybuilders all while referring to the central theme of reality vs. artificiality. Belin questions the construction and fetishization of mainstream beauty ideals and enduring gender constructs.
In each of the artist’s series, individual images mirror each other while offering subtle differences. In Black Eyed Susan (2010-13), models embody the ideal of Western feminine beauty, yet they defy complete uniformity through superficial differences in each image: slight changes in the angles of their gaze, hair and eye color, lipstick shade, and superimposed floral motifs create an illusion of individuality. Through this juxtaposition, Belin’s photographs address the phenomenon of simulacra and simulation, a process through which the boundaries between truth and fallacy, reality and illusion are clouded and representations of reality lose resemblance to real events. In today’s world of technology and media consumption, audiences increasingly project and accept edited, staged realities as real life. Belin’s work highlights this collective fantasy by theatrically performing the very processes that drive mainstream media. Her 2016 series All Star continues investigations into superficial constructions of beauty and reality, incorporating a mental world that is chaotic, saturated, and obsessive. Belin fashions and photographs her models in a style reminiscent of film noir and overlays the photographs with vintage comics elements and her own graphic patterns. These women look real to viewers but exist in the simulated, fantastical world of superheroes and mythology, and the glimpses viewers are seemingly afforded into their minds suggest they have embraced this hyper-reality.
Belin graduated from the École Nationale des Beaux-arts in 1988, where she focused on American art of the ‘60s and ‘70s. She went on to study philosophy of art at the Université Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris. Her work has been exhibited extensively domestically and abroad, including in solo exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; Huis Marseilles, Amsterdam; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris and the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne. Her work is included in the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’art Moderne de la ville de Paris; Kunsthaus Zürich; Los Angeles County Museum; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Belin was awarded the Paris Photo prize in 1997, the CCF (HSBC) Foundation for Photography Prize in 2000, and the Prix Pictet in 2015. She is an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in France, and her work was the subject of a major retrospective Les images intranquilles at the Centre Pompidou in 2015. A solo exhibition of her latest series Reflection was presented by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2020.