DIVINE SACRILEGE: Visionary god David LaChapelle surprises with new volume of insanely brilliant miracles
By DANIEL KUSNER
It's the ultimate package of sinfully vulgar gloss.
After opening the box that contained David LaChapelle's "Heaven to Hell" (Taschen $59.99), a venerable hush fell over my office at the newspaper.
Leafing through the 344 pages is a vivid journey through the sacred, the profane and the supernatural.
The arresting image on the book's cover "Pieta with Courtney Love" features the Widow Cobain posed as Mary, post-crucifixion. Shot in 2006, the wounded corpse wears bloodstained FTL undies and a tube sock with stigmata holes.
Our troubled mourning wife rests on an ambulance stretcher. And the Grunge Messiah's arm hangs down, revealing his veins — black and punctured.
With so many eye-catching details, you could stare at LaChapelle's "Pieta" longer than the album cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The gay visionary doesn't waste time with a foreword. The images speak for themselves: nightmarishly sexy, dangerously innocent, vapid and ugly, saturated with God-given beauty.
The photographer's muse, transsexual superstar Amanda Lepore, graces many pages.
On a double-page tableaux, "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories," Lepore shows off her gash while a babydyke tattoo artists puts the finishing touches on flames licking her vagina.
All the other usual suspects are well represented.
Amid druggy-induced references to "Taxi Driver" and "Scarface" are LaChapelle's coterie of celebutants: Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Whitney Houston, Sofia Coppola, Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Elton, Dolly, Lil' Kim and Jocelyn Wildenstein.
Some surprising cameos make the short list: Hilary Clinton (or is that a wax dummy?), a panicked Philip Johnson, a happy Muhammad Ali and a sweat-soaked and shirtless Lance Armstrong.
For a brief and welcome detour, LaChapelle flexes his lens.
Abandoning his high-sheen vision, he unveils the "Drunk American" series.
Shot in 2006, this is his strange Polaroid-esque homage to late-'70s U.S.A.
It's a post-Bush apocalypse, where gallons of Carlo Rossi spill onto wall-to-wall brown shag. Where grandmothers hold guns and serve guests tawdry noshes on stars-and-stripes paper plates.
It's kitsch mixed with unsettling prognostication.
Toward the end of our journey, LaChapelle faces death. And it's not totally ugly — it's acceptance.
Titles like "In Heaven, Everything is Fine" and "When the World is Through" give the first glimpse of afterlife.
A celestial hue imbues LaChapelle's vision.
The very end, brings us to the beginning: Jesus himself.
LaChapelle envisions the Second Coming in the 21st century. It's as if Andy Warhol was standing over LaChapelle's shoulder when he shot his gangsta-style "Last Supper."
This is divine inspiration.
If you fork over the $60 for "Heaven to Hell," you'll probably never let it out of your sight.
Kusner meets LaChapelle at Goss Gallery in Dallas.