Gap Whitney Biennial T-Shirts

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I rarely shamelessly plug a product, but this weekend, while I was at a mall, I made it over to a Gap to check out the Whitney Biennial t-shirts they’ve produced. I had seen the ads, and they looked pretty cool, but it was hard to tell what the shirts were really like from the promos. In person they are quite nice, in various men’s, women’s, and unisex cuts, as well as different types of approaches to traditional jersey cotton t’s-some are thin, some thicker, some more brushed, some almost silky. Plus they’re cheap at $28. The designs are the heart of the t’s of course, and one of my favs was the Kenny Scharf one with graphical images from the 60s, including those little Eve figures with the wide doe eyes, dressed mod from head to toe and dancing their little hearts out. I actually have these posters framed, and had them hanging for years, although a former roommate said their big eyes would follow him around the room and scare him. Anyway, my absolute fav is the Kiki Smith shirt-which I bought. It’s more like a blouse, with a smooth and silky texture more like a blend than the 100% cotton which it is. It’s crème with nature-inspired graphics and on the back says, “The whole world is watching.” They run generous too, as I bought a medium in the Smith shirt, and would have bought the Scharf one as well but the large was surprisingly pretty big and they were all out of most of their stock—the salesgirls said the previous day someone came in and bought piles of every image (eBay I’m sure). I was interested in the Chuck Close as well, but they didn’t have it.

Anyway, in addition to just telling you about a new shirt I bought, I just wanted to comment on the idea of getting the artists to do designs. For years now it’s been the trend du jour for high end designers to go “low end” with every high end store then jumping on board to feature the items and bring the whole thing full circle (which is a little funny). I’m fairly down with this concept, although it works sometimes better than others. My John Varvatos Converse are magical, and my Luella Bartley Target tank is quite cute, but a lot of the other Target designer lines are pretty shady quality and many of the other stores don’t seem to do much in the way of anything interesting with the blending of “high” and “low.” The H & M stuff is ok, but nothing to get in those 6am lines for. Plus, although it’s a smart concept, I think the whole matching game is getting a little played out, as half the time I’d rather just go to Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, Neiman’s Last Call, or Loehmans and try to find the designer goods so marked down they end up as cheap as the Target or H &M prices and no quality or design details are lost (hence, the Marc by Marc Jacobs T I’m wearing as we speak which was $29.99).

But, I like this idea of the Whitney Biennial artists and the Gap. You cannot buy that kind of art on clearance at some sort of art version of Nordstrom Rack, and it does seem like an egalitarian venture. I always think artist challenges where everyone has to play off the same theme, or use the same materials, are intriguing, and bring to light core talents and strengths. Also, I think there’s something particularly modern and refreshing about spreading their art throughout the malls of America, and onto the web of course, breaking down the sparkling walls that surround NYC, which a lot of people (including me) think are crumbling anyway. It’s a smash at artistic and intellectual elitism, which I’m always a supporter of—even if it is a Gap marketing campaign at heart. Plus it’s just a great looking and fitting shirt, which can be hard to find.

Click here to go to the Whitney Biennial 2008 site.

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