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When Christophe Coppens moved to Los Angeles four years ago, he didn’t realize there would be such a learning curve. A milliner and artist emigrating from Belgium, Coppens attempted to jibe his vision of American culture that he’d grown up with and the version that he was experiencing. Coppens translated that struggle to understand in a series of masks for his solo exhibition, “50 Masks: Made in America,” at Please Do Not Enter, a “curated store” and gallery located on South Olive Street in Downtown Los Angeles, on view through July 16.
“It’s very simple,” Coppens told THR in between greetings with friends and family who’d come to see the opening of the exhibition. “In Europe, I was educated with American culture and pop culture. This is four years of trying to understand things. Understanding that there’s some things I like, and some things I don’t like. I’m still a guest in this country, and I’m still trying to digest certain things. But it’s not complete; I could make 400 masks.”
In the gallery, the masks are held up by custom steel stands, which sit on plinths. They are full of symbolism: The “Trump Mask,” for instance, is a demon-like wraith draped in the American flag, while the “Thanks for Nothing Mask” is adorned with turkey feathers in reference to Thanksgiving. Many of the masks are depictions of hot button issues — sexual assault, white guilt, gender identity, religion, guns, homelessness — but there’s not an aspect of voyeurism so much as a genuine attempt at presenting these issues as an outsider might. Tentatively, respectfully, and not overstepping his bounds.
“The medium allows me to show heavy topics in a light way,” Coppens said. “It’s about that lightness and heaviness, the past and the present.”
Nearby, fellow countryman Dominique Deruddere, the Academy Award-nominated director in the foreign language category at the 2000 Oscars for Everybody’s Famous!, stood in awe of “The Oracle Mask,” a particularly large mask looming over the back of the room. “It’s quite amazing,” said Deruddere of the show’s centerpiece. “I’m very excited to see these works.” A few feet away, John Gray, a staff writer for FOX’s American Horror Story, perused a few pieces that resembled BDSM masks.
The works were for sale from $2,500 to $9,000 for “The Oracle Mask,” which was adorned with the almost full body of a chicken.
Coppens made a name for himself over the past few years by making accessories and costumes for a number of pop stars including Roisin Murphy, Lady Gaga, Grace Jones, Scissor Sisters, Beth Ditto from the Gossip and Rihanna. “You know, she was wearing this knife hat I made for her performance at the Grammy’s on the night of that incident with Chris Brown,” Coppens told The Hollywood Reporter.
But since 2012, Coppens has focused his career on being an artist, and 50 Masks marks his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles.
“He found us when we first opened the store in 2012,” said Nicolas Libert, who with Emmanuel Renoird owns Please Do Not Enter, which displays and sells an assortment of items that toe the lines between fashion, design and art. “It is funny, because we followed his career in Belgium, but didn’t meet him until Los Angeles. We moved here [from France], so we share this vision of America with Christophe. What’s great about the masks is that he doesn’t judge, he just asks questions.”
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