HOLLYWOOD — We've watched her go from sexy schoolgirl to hit-making superstar to train wreck. We've had a peek at her toned abs, bald head and, um, beyond. Never before, however, has Britney Spears been on display quite like she has been over the last few weeks.
From a super-size painting of Brit's unmentionables to a mural made from Band-Aids called "It's Mickey, B---h!," the "Just Britney" show at the World of Wonder art gallery has every imaginable "tribute" to the singer. And if those works weren't shocking enough for you, the exhibit — which closed Wednesday but will reopen November 5 and run through the end of the month — also boasts a chewed-chicle masterpiece titled "Gum Blonde," and "Britocchio," a painting of Brit with Pinocchio's nose, sitting in a field with her privates exposed.
"On the one hand you've got people who absolutely love her making pictures out of her from bubble gum," said exhibit curator Steven Corfe, surveying a floor filled with pink-haired fans dining on Cheetos and Pepsi. "Then, on the other end of the scale, you've got pictures of her flashing ... and generally being a bad mom. ... It's 50 percent love and 50 percent mockery."
"The artist was probably inspired to make this out of gum," super-blogger Perez Hilton said of the Britney portrait constructed from 500 pieces of chewed candy, "because gum is disposable — much like Britney's music and her career."
At the show's opening, a cross-dressing dancer took the stage and re-created Spears' recent VMA performance; nearby, a station was set up for fans to have their heads shaved. Not everyone, however, was standing alongside Hilton in his desire to kick the tabloid target while she was down.
"I'm glad to see people making great art about a great artist," insisted Chris Crocker, the Internet sensation who shot to stardom with his tear-filled clips of support (see "Britney Spears, Bad Parent? Taryn Manning, Perez Hilton Weigh In"). "I would tell [Britney] to tune everybody out, and just find the performer that we all know and love is in there, and just go with her heart."
Whether they love her or hate her, the artists did seem to agree on one thing: Only Spears could serve as muse for a show like this.
"This is [honoring] when she was in her prime, when she started out and was nice and young and fresh," explained Plastic God (a.k.a. Doug Murphy), pointing to his work of several Lego-people portraits of Brit, surrounding a bigger depiction of her in a straitjacket. "Then we come to the ultimate sparkly version, which is the rhinestone Britney, [made of] actual rhinestones hand-sewn onto the canvas. We move on to when she gets a little older, a little more womanly ... and the main piece is touching on the weaknesses. Basically, it was when she went through her crazy phase. I've put her in a pink mental-patient outfit, with the Hannibal Lecter [mask], and I put her in a padded cell."
"My piece is called 'Rat Race,' and it's all about how Britney Spears' parents pimped her out to the Mouse when she was a kid," explained Lenora Claire, plugging in the hamster wheel that powered her cage-and-Barbie-doll depiction. "It's a lot of metaphors on top of metaphors, with the gilded cage and her running the rat race. There's a strobe light to simulate the paparazzi [flashbulbs], the wheel spins like she's running on it — and instead of getting cheese at the end, it's Cheetos."
Corfe calls "The Snake Charmer," the aforementioned 6-by-10-foot image of Britney emerging from Paris' car, the exhibition's centerpiece. "It's already been censored [at other exhibitions]," he noted, "but we don't have any phobias here."
The piece's creator, Jamie Boling, explained how he'd been censored. "I had a studio in Richmond, Virginia, and there's a gallery ... Barack Obama's people had decided to come and do a fundraiser there," he said. "Obama's people were requesting that the work be taken down, covered up or replaced, and my reaction was, 'No — it's a bit hypocritical for a presidential candidate to be asking that a work be censored, don't you think?'
"They placed a big blue curtain in front of it during the event," he shrugged. "They were afraid that somebody would take a picture of him in front of it, but I think it would have been a great opportunity for somebody who is wanting to lead our country to talk about freedom of speech ... unfortunately, he decided to be more afraid of the consequences."
Brit critic Hilton, on the other hand, grinned when he saw the piece. While Obama wouldn't be photographed in front of it, "I, on the other hand, took about 30 pictures!" he said. Hilton also tried to spur on a "Britney Boycott" at the event. "Come to the art show, but don't buy Britney's single," he said of "Gimme More," minutes before shaving the head of one of the museum's curators. "I still can't believe it went to #1 [on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs]. ... Britney is all sorts of messed up, and she needs a lot of help."
"We need to have a Perez boycott!" fumed Crocker, launching the first of many Britney debates that erupted on the art-show floor. "I don't even see why [Hilton] is here. It's a Britney art show — Britney fans come here. I don't understand why Britney haters are coming."
"She's everything: She's pop, she's America," reasoned Claire, who has set up a notepad next to her artwork so attendees can leave Britney messages of love — or hate. "She's the American dream gone wrong, for now. But I think she'll get back on top. I'm sure."
[This story was originally published on 10.11.07 at 8:02 a.m.]