Marlene Dietrich, in words and at the Palazzo Grassi

Venice, Italy

Portrait of Marlene Dietrich (1930), Cecil Beaton
Courtesy of Condé Nast and the Pinault Collection

Among the myriad of game-changing figures explored within the pages of A Magazine Curated By Erdem is the German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, whom the British-Turkish designer and A#24 curator considers a personal hero. Dietrich’s prolific career was marked by an open defiance of traditional gender roles and sexual norms, often playing androgynous roles and alluding to her bisexuality. The entertainer cemented herself as a cultural icon of the 20th century; it comes as no surprise that Dietrich’s portrait, photographed by another 20th century master Cecil Beaton, is currently being featured in CHRONORAMA. Photographic Treasures of the 20th Century.

Recently acquired by the Pinault Collection from the Condé Nast archives, over 400 photographic masterpieces by epoch-making artists of the 20th century comprise the exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi, curated by French curator Matthieu Humery. The works of Cecil Beaton joins the likes of photographers Diane Arbus, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn, among others, as well as the illustrators Eduardo Garcia Benito, Helen Dryden and George Wolfe Plank. Brought to life in the marbled salons of the Venetian palazzo, the enduring oeuvres document the fabled events, social phenomena and illustrious personas of this golden age of visual innovation. Chronorama Redux, running simultaneously with the main exhibition, intertwines the works of contemporary artists Tarrah Krajnak, Eric N. Mack, Giulia Andreani and Daniel Spivakov with the 20th century iconography, reinvestigating the gaze and the public relationship between image and time.

Whilst equally examining the gaze of historical iconography, A Magazine Curated By Erdem diverts attention to the personal relationship between image and inspiration, especially as acknowledged by contemporary creatives. Within A#24, German designer Andreas Grill reflects upon his affinity and admiration of Marlene Dietrich and her legacy, featured in an excerpt below.

CHRONORAMA. Photographic Treasures of the 20th Century. runs through January 7th, 2024 at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.

Marlene Dietrich at the Théâtre de l’Étoile (1959), François Gragnon for Paris Match
Courtesy of La Galerie de l’Instant

Words by Andreas Grill

‘Dancing, music, champagne; the best ways to forget until you find something you want to remember.’

These lines of dialogue are lifted from Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo (Just a Gigolo) (1978), the last film the German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich ever performed in. It’s rumoured she was paid $250,000 to come out of retirement for two days of shooting just for this. Those words have always held a special meaning to me because of the way they resonate within the navigational disarray of life, where one clings on to hope and remembers that the journey is part of the goal. In a poem by Erich Kästner underlined in a book that Marlene once gave to Josef von Sternberg — the director who took her to Hollywood — one is given insights into the moments of severe depression Marlene experienced throughout her life:

Gloom comes and goes without a cause
And one is full of only emptiness

Reading about Marlene’s journey is to travel down some of the many paths she took. Below are a few of the roads taken by Marlene that I most admire. My first thought is of her pre-Hollywood era playing Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy in a comedic revue in Vienna, creating what scholar Rebecca Kennison coined as ‘double drag’, defying sexual norms with her choice to play ‘butch femme’ roles blending what had been seen to be male and female counterparts. Furthermore, I’ve always loved the idea of all the tokens and artefacts she meticulously kept in storages around the world, so many of which are now stored in the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin.

Film still from The Funeral of Marlene Dietrich (1999), TJ Wilcox




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