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Moving Pictures: Antoine Wagner

Mable Yiu

Antoine Wagner is rocking the photography and film world with his unique vision and decidedly refreshing attitude.

Antoine Wagner is a French/American artist, photographer, and filmmaker, born in 1982 in Evanston, IL, who lives and works in New York and Paris. He holds degrees in theater, political science, and film studies. And if that’s not enough to pique your curiosity about this multifaceted artist, his brag-worthy lineage may grab your attention: He is Richard Wagner’s great-great grandson and Franz Liszt’s great-great-great grandson.

But as impressive as Antoine Wagner’s ancestry may be, it is really beside the point once you see his decidedly contemporary work. In fact, when I asked him to name a formative experience, he doesn’t mention his work at Bayreuth but instead recalls riding on his father’s shoulder through the Tate in London.

Watermill to Rome

It’s no surprise that in 2005, having recently graduated from Northwestern, Wagner was invited to do a residency at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center, in Watermill, NY. Or thathe recently finished a Villa Medicis residencyat the French Academy in Rome. Last year he published an acclaimed book, Wagner in Der Schweiz, a collection of photographs inspiredby his esteemed ancestor’s time in Switzerland (the opera composer fled his native Germany for about a decade due to his participation in two revolutionary movements). He appears in the documentary film Wagner: The Swiss Years, which premiered on SRF in Switerland and was presented at the Villa Rietberg in Zurich and at the German Embassy in New York City.

A Refreshing Attitude

Wagner claims that his art career was inspired by the fact that “I was two feet too short to play in the NBA, but I was the right size to appreciate performances on stage and to be at eye level with the Impressionist paintings hanging in the Paris museums.” His photography has received awards such as the Prix de L’Academie Lyrique Pierre Berge in Paris, and in 2011 he produced and directed the tour documentary From a Mess to the Masses, about the French alternative band Phoenix. Recently, he collaborated with fashion designer Julien David and his team in Tokyo, learning Japanese in the process.

An Emotional Response

Wagner’s work, as seen on these pages, speaks for itself. But the artist is continually surprised by the response he receives from viewers. “I keep wondering how strangers can be touched by my work and express their gratitude so intimately,” Wagner says. His self-effacing attitude and humble response to success seems to feed his creativity. “If you think in terms of career,” Wagner notes, “you easily forget that every project is a new challenge. Luckily, my landlord does not know that!”

Antoine Wagner is at work on an exhibition in Hamburg for May 2015 and plans to direct his first U.S. feature film. To learn more,