Exhibition Review: Back to the 80s at the Museo de la Moda, Chile

A wall of VHS tapes welcome visitors to the exhibition. Photo: Museo de la Moda

Last month, on the final day of my holiday in Chile, I paid my second visit to the Museo de la Moda, to see their current exhibition Back to the 80s, Part II and to see how the museum is faring since my introductory visit two years ago.  Back in 2009, I met the museum’s director and founder, and the curatorial and conservation team, and had a behind-the-scenes look at their exquisite storage facilities, galleries and library.

1980s design objects installed in period rooms of the museum.

The Museo de la Moda was founded by Jorge Yarur Bascuñan in 1999, and in 2007 the museum opened to the public on the grounds of his former family residence, with the mission to collect, preserve and exhibit world fashion, textiles and design objects from around the word and across time. The Yarur-Bascunan house is a masterwork of mid twentieth century design, by a quartet Chilean architects, whom were greatly influenced by the style and philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright. The house’s exterior and interior restored rooms, are wonderfully evocative examples of early 60s design, with the original furnishings, wall coverings and lighting intact. Rooms in the house including Raquel Bascuñan’s dressing room, the study, lounge, bar room and bedrooms as part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, and also serve as backdrops for items in temporary exhibitions. Currently, artworks and furniture from the 1980s, notably pieces by Memphis, are installed in the rooms, creating a marvellous juxtaposition of twentieth century design, highlighting both the stylistic changes, and parallels between early 60s modernism and postmodernism.

1980s personal electronics and appliances installed in the kitchen of the Yarur-Bascuñan residence

Information about the house, the Yarrur-Bascuñan family, and the costume collection precedes the current exhibition galleries, and sets a scene for understanding the museum as the culmination of a family legacy, and the lifelong passion of its director and founder. Notable in the introductory gallery is an edited film showing Raquel Bascuñan, fashionable dressed and poised in the 1950s, travelling throughout Europe in iconic Dior-style dresses, many of which are part of the museum’s collection today.

The gallery hallways are bedecked with 80s magazine images.

The current exhibition, Volver a los 80s, (Back to the 80s), promised to present the fashions of the decade as social phenomena, and to examine the 80s in all its incarnations: playful, eclectic, socially charged and intensely creative.  The introductory text describes the 80s as a ‘cocktail of contradictions’; a time in which fashion became a ‘delicious indulgent spectacle,’ amidst the backdrop of great social and cultural changes in the world.  This fairly simple yet concise introduction set the scene for the exhibition splendidly, and also freed the objects to exist in a broad but multi-faceted context.  There were minimal text interventions following the introductory panels, and labels were non-intrusive and provided the necessary information elegantly.

The Delorean time machine from the Back to the Future films on display

Exhibition design took a starring role from the very beginning, as visitors traverse a vibrantly coloured corridor made up of VHS tape cases to enter the galleries. From the outset, a soundtrack of familiar 80s dance tunes blares through the exhibition, making it easy to become immersed in the sound of the decade, and more than a little bit difficult to resist dancing! All the passageways were papered with copies of 80s magazine covers and pages, looking a little bit like the walls of my childhood bedroom, with colourful images from The Face, Vogue, i-D and various music magazines at every turn.

Marty McFly's jacket from Back to the Future 2

The jewel of the exhibition, is an undeniably iconic piece of 1980s film history – the time machine Delorean from the Back to the Future films. The car is installed among television screens playing clips of the films, and neon signs spelling out slogans and keywords of the 80s.  Not only does the museum offer us this 80s prop par excellence, but also the jacket worn by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future 2, displayed in a special oxygen free showcase to ensure its survival far past the year 2015!

Jacket worn by Nik Rhodes of Duran Duran (far left) alongside the toile of Princess Diana's wedding dress (right) Photo: Museo de la Moda

Although there are other film and celebrity related costumes and artifacts on show, the exhibit is deeply committed to showing the 80s as a time of innovative, ground-breaking design, spearheaded not only by pop and film icons such as Madonna and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also owing to the fashion designers and ordinary people who catapulted them into the spotlight. The exhibits of celebrity clothing also illustrate the 1980s’ rich diversity. For example, one gallery displays the toile for Princess Diana’s wedding dress, a leather jacket worn by Nik Rhodes in the Duran Duran video “Wild Boys,” Madonna’s lace gloves, and a faux fur coat worn by Leigh Bowery.

An array of 1980s mass fashion items

A selection of more populist fashions, including L.A. Gear sneakers, band t-shirts, surf and swimwear, Fiorucci seperates, denim and leather gives a view onto how the celebrity and media cultures of fashion filtered down into mass fashion.

View of the Vivienne Westwood gallery display, Photo: Museo de la Moda

En route to the large exhibition spaces featuring displays on specific European, American and Japanese designers, was a room that I found it hard to tear myself away from – a whole gallery of Vivienne Westwood! Alas, I managed to carry onward to see the rest of the show, but not before literally pressing my nose to the glass for a few minutes.

A collection of items by Memphis

The remainder of the exhibition, spread over two floors comprised displays of clothing by designers including Alaia, Gaultier, Mugler, Castelbajac, Armani, Romeo Gigli, Zandra Rhodes and Katherine Hamnett. There are also items made expressly for Boy George by designer and stylist Sue Clowes, and jewelry made for Thierry Mugler’s collections by 1980s personality designer Billy Boy (also a collector of couture and designer fashion). In addition to the pieces of Memphis furniture in the house galleries, the exhibition also features an array of fashion items by the design group’s members Ettore Sottsass and Nathalie du Pasquier. A final vitrine emphasizes the significance of avant-garde Japanese designs with garments by Issey Miyake and Kansai Yamamoto.

Photo: Museo de la Moda

The culminating gallery display is an impressive room filled with characteristic designer fashions of the 1980s, including cocktail dresses and ball gowns, shoes, bags, jewelry and millinery. In most cases these items are displayed alongside two-dimensional representations of them in editorial or advertising spreads in magazines from the collection.

Overview of the main gallery. Photo: Museo de la Moda

The items on exhibit in themselves present a satisfying look at 80s fashion in all its guises, but the intelligence and aims of the show are made even more explicit in a short video presentation showing to visitors. In the video, guest curator Lydia Kamitsas explains how the exhibition was devised as a way to share and enrich the Chilean public’s awareness of the decade alongside other perspectives. It is important to note that during the 1980s, Chile was under a dictatorship, and the transgressive and original fashions of the 80s were even more outré in this context. The video expands this notion with the commentary of various Chilean personalities sharing their remembrances of what they wore, and in some cases the stir it caused.

Remarkably, most items are displayed alongside their photos in magazine or advertising pages

Clips of the installation process, conservation and storage lab and curators at work add more interest, and are narrated by Jorge Yarur Bascuñan sharing his remembrances of the 80s both in Chile an the UK, which he visited for the first time in 1987. He comments, rather poignantly, that, ‘This exhibition has a lot to do with me – other than just wanting to share it – it feels very personal.’

Indeed, Back to the 80s, gives a dazzling and refreshing look at a decade much maligned, imitated and examined.  But most of all it makes the point that beneath all the sequins, ruffles, lycra and make-up, there were real people living through an extraordinary time, and most probably they were dancing.

The exhibition runs until late March, but if a trip to Chile is not on the calendar for you, the museum’s well-organised and extremely attractive website offers up an experience that won’t disappoint. Definitely worth spending some quality time browsing the photos, archive of past exhibitions, fashion timeline and virtual tour. Enjoy, and for an authentic experience of the Back to the 80s exhibit, keep your Walkman tuned to some 80s classics such as “Talking in Your Sleep,” by the Romantics (1983) or “Private Eyes,” by Hall and Oates, both of which played in the galleries during my visit.

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