Domestic Affairs: Holiday Line Up

CartierCarousel1

Among the many things that I am preparing for with the approach of the holiday season is how I’m going to work various fashion exhibitions into my schedule.

Obviously, those exhibitions outside of California are impossible for me, but hopefully they will be possible for many of you.

Most exciting for next week is Fern Mallis’s conversation with Valentino at 92Y in New York City. Tickets are currently sold out, but there is a wait list available for Mallis’s November 18 program with the legendary designer. This is in addition to the Death Becomes Her having opened in the last couple weeks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Jill discussed her visit to the exhibition in her post, yesterday), and Killer Heels still open at the Brooklyn Museum.At the Museum at FIT, while Exposed: A History of Lingerie is closing, their special exhibition, Dance & Fashion will remain open until January 3.

As I was informed by Jon in a comment on my last exhibition round up, there is another exciting exhibition on the east coast examining Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Cartier collection at the Hillwood Estate. Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems has been open since June, but will not close until December 31.

In the Midwest, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mileopens November 15 at the Chicago History Museum. It looks to be a truly fascinating exploration of the local fashion industry and the people who both worked in and utilized it, based upon the amazing blogposts that have led up to the exhibition’s opening.

In Des Moines, Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede will be open at the Des Moines Art Center until January 18.

Here in California, Hollywood Costumeopened a month ago and will be up until March just across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also in Los Angeles, the Fowler Museum at UCLA has three textile exhibitions on display: Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africaup through December 7; Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea up through January 4; and Yards of Style: African-Print Cloths of Ghanaopen through December 14.

In San Francisco, not directly related to fashion — but indirectly since his V magazine photo shootAi Weiwei’s @Largeis currently on display on Alcatraz Island; at the de Young Museum, Keith Haring: The Political Line while not actually involving clothing or textiles offers visitors a chance to see some of the original drawings used by Vivienne Westwood in her 1983 collaboration with the artist. At the Legion of Honor, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country Houseis open until January 18. I will be writing my review of it in early December.

Opening January 31 at the de Young is Embodiment: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpturewhich will be a wonderful opportunity to explore bodily depiction from approximately 110 different cultural groups. It may be a wee bit early to get excited about March openings, but I must confess I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opening on March 7 and featuring not only Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, but his portrait of Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry in full Scottish military regalia which inspired my master’s ‘virtual exhibition’ on tartan and Scottish dress. Even more exciting is the arrival of High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor on March 14.

What exhibitions are you making time for this winter? Are there any exhibitions you want to share with Worn Through readers? If so, feel free to either email me or to share your thoughts in the comments!

Opening image from the website for Hillwood’s Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gem

Comments

Sad Farewell to Worn Fashion Journal

IMG_0170

Not strictly related to this side of the Atlantic, I admit, but perhaps an indication of its far reaching influence, today’s post is an acknowledgement of the end of Worn Fashion Journal, a Canadian based bi-annual magazine that has provided a much needed platform for critical but accessible fashion and dress journalism over the last ten years.

Personally, this is timely as it has also been a decade since I lived in Montreal and got myself a brief spot as a local reviewer of clothing stores in the Outremont area for Worn’s website.  I still remember being interviewed by Serah-Marie McMahon, its founding editor, in Casa Del Popolo on St Laurent, and thinking how exciting it was to see someone with no formal journalism experience wanting to give voice to the complex narratives, practices and techniques we associate with our clothes.  The first copies I owned, including the third issue (which is pictured above), contained such gems from how to adapt your jeans for a skinny fit, the history of bakelite jewellery to the advent of ethical fashion and interviews with Alexandra Palmer.  The diverse topics, the absence of advertisements and the emphasis on what people actually wear instead of what they should wear was a much needed antidote to the gloss and proselytizing of most mainstream fashion magazines.

Interview with Alexandra Palmer from the third issue of Worn Fashion Journal (authors own image)

I am probably not alone when I say that with Worn Fashion Journal, I felt I had found a like minded friend.  It definitely allowed me to have an academic interest in fashion and dress while still enjoying the fun sensations associated with dressing up and playing with clothes.  It also contributed to my return to the UK a few years later to take up a place at the Royal College of Art in London to study history of design.  I have much to thank Worn for!

A poster for the launch of Worn Issue 2, that I kept because I loved the design (author’s own image)

The gap left by its absence will be sizeable and I only hope that it does not represent the final descent of very independent fashion publishing.  Its presence was notable for its refusal to accept fashion at face value, trying to look beyond but always in a curious and non-judgemental way.  There really must be space for media like this because it enables us to hear a dynamic cacophony of clothed voices above what can sometimes feel like the constant drone of commercial, mass produced fashion. 

The final double issue is published on 22 November and the magazine is also having a farewell ball, which is sure to be well attended by its many followers, aptly named the ‘Wornettes’.

Cover of the final issue, published on 22 November

When looking for tributes to and articles on this inspirational magazine, it seems the coverage is predominantly by Canadian press.  I would love to hear from anyone who has written about or shared an interest in Worn Fashion Journal, wherever you are, and it would be great to know if anyone is thinking about doing a dissertation or thesis about Worn Fashion Journal – could be a very interesting project!

Comments

Parisian Insights: The 50s Fashion in France. 1947-1957

This weekend ended the Palais Galliera’s glamorous exhibition dedicated to the 1950s fashion in France. We often think that because we know all about the New Look, the Bar ensemble imagined by Christian Dior in 1947, we know everything about the 1950s fashion. Yet this display demonstrates how versatile the stylistic silhouettes proposed by the designers of the decade were.

Installation View

Installation View

Within its splendid 19th century palace, the museum decided to privilege a simple modernist scenography that would moderate the extravagance of the architecture and emphasize the garments displayed. The exhibitions follows a thematic thread built on the typical wardrobe of an elegant Parisian of those days who would change several times a day to assume her social and fashionable obligations: we thus explore daywear, evening wear (within a ballroom-like presentation), leisure garments and cocktail dresses with a few accessory and undergarment hints. About 100 objects illustrate the abundance of styles, cuts and adornments that for most reveal how Parisian Haute Couture optimistically gained respectability and glory again after World War II  while others announce a subtle fashion and social revolution, one that would burst in the 1960s.

The first thing you think of when observing all the garments displayed is how imprisoned the feminine body was during the 1950s, how male designers, led by Christian Dior’s iconic and scandalous ample New Look (influenced by Jacques Fath),  fantasized a luxurious nostalgic silhouette with heavy layering of material, rich adornments and girdled hips. Most 1950s wealthy women dressed to seduce and entertain not to work, they wear Haute Couture designs alongside Tupperware products in the pages of the magazines hung on the walls of the Palais Galliera. The masculine and liberated image of women established during the war was erased for a more conservative archetype enhanced by the structural undergarments displayed within the exhibition on walls as abstract art works.

Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954 Collection Palais Galliera

Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954
Collection Palais Galliera

Yet alongside those romantic corollas, we observe the voluminous and sculptural garments of Cristobal Balenciaga who still inspire many contemporary designers while Gabrielle Chanel’s tailored suits announce the androgynous silhouettes of the following decade. Yes, the Chanel garments of the exhibition clearly stand out. The designer who had stopped her fashion career decided to triumphantly return in 1954 and do what she had already done in her beginnings: fight against archaism and help women build their emancipation with the help of fashion. She despised the hindering silhouettes of the male authorities and created her very own scandal with her sleek ensembles that provoked a cleavage in the middle of the decade.

Installation View: Evening Wear

Installation View: Evening Wear

Although the 1950s decade surely embodies the peak of French Haute Couture, the couturiers of the period help draw the early foundation of ready-to-wear. The exhibition makes it clear that, alongside various social factors of course, the success of Haute Couture worldwide, gave birth to ready-to-wear. The baby boomers of the decade and their youthful tastes are not represented within the display but we can’t help but note how the section dedicated to leisurewear announces teenage fashion and the 1960s ready-to-wear. Led by influential cultural figures such as Brigitte Bardot, young women favor light coton, beach dresses, ballerina shoes, naive prints…that provide the body with unrestricted, dynamic and graceful moves. Those looser designs serve as and experimental platform to the up-coming 1960s wear.

Finally, just as the exhibition’s span begins with the revolutionary look of Christian Dior’s 1947 collection, it symbolically ends with the appointment of the young Yves Saint Laurent as Artistic Director of the Christian Dior house in 1957. Although at Christian Dior, he pursues his master’s opulent style, we know how promptly he would become the emblem of feminine emancipation and ready-to-wear in the 1960s.

Installation View: Day Wear

Installation View: Day Wear

The Palais Galliera exhibition was a strongly didactic display that not only diffused eye-candy but also proposed an innovative lecture of the decade’s fashion, far from clichés and easy assumptions and raised an undeniable debate: What do you think? 1950s fashion: revolutionary or archaic?

 

Further Resources:

Exhibition Catalogue: Bosc, Alexandra. Les années 50: La Mode en France 1947-1957. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Domestic Affairs: Kimono for a Modern Age at LACMA

Group 1 M2012_130_1

I have eagerly anticipated the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) Kimono for a Modern Age exhibition for over a year. I started out as a Japanese language and culture scholar, and while my research focuses since I entered the field of dress history have drifted westward, I still have a love for and fascination with Japan and Korea. I had also become very interested in the type of kimono this exhibition explores – meisen — through a paper of my own delivered at the CSA Western Region symposium in 2012, which I reiterated in a post for Worn Through.

As mentioned on Unframed, the LACMA blog, the kimono in many ways symbolizes Japan itself. However, people have a very distinct impression of what kimono should look like — a stereotype, if you will — which this exhibition challenges and challenges well.

Instead of small, delicate patterns we are accustomed to in kimono fabric, meisen kimono popular between the end of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), through the Taisho (1912 – 1926), and up to the post-war period of the Showa period (1926 – 1989) had large, bold patterns in bright colors. In my previous post, I discussed the methods of creating the most distinctive feature of meisen: the ikat-imitation effect of stencil-dyeing the warp and weft threads before the fabric is woven. The other distinguishing feature is that much of the meisen designs can be seen as borrowing from art and artistic movements in the West at the same time that Japan was influencing these same Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, as well as modernizing their own traditions such as screen painting and calligraphy (examples below).

Now that we’ve gone over how meisen are unexpected, let’s examine this particular exhibition, which features of 30 kimono spanning the period from approximately 1920 to 1960.

M2012_130_5  Group 1 M2013_40

 

The exhibition is located in LACMA’s pavilion of Japanese Art, and is brilliantly laid out to take full advantage of the unusual exhibition space, the permanent Japanese art collection, and the other exhibition in the pavilion, Zuan: Japanese Design Books. The pavilion’s layout requires that visitors take an elevator to the top — where they can see both the permanent collection and Zuan off to the right — and then perambulate down various ramps to the display spaces on each floor to make their way to the basement and then up the elevator again to the ground floor. The space is designed to compliment Japanese art which traditionally was created with the intent of inspiring contemplation rather than intense emotion or awe. In many ways the pavilion also mimics an Indian stupa, which became the pagoda in the far east, encouraging walking in a circular or spiral pattern as a form of moving meditation. This enables the visitor to take in each of the ten or so displays of three kimono each, in a calm, contemplative manner similar to the way in which you are encouraged to appreciate the traditional arts in Japan.

It worked very, very well. The slow pace that the building’s ramps encouraged and the pause at each landing allowed me to see subtle similarities of patterning I otherwise might not have noticed had the display been set up in the usual single-floor manner of fashion and dress exhibitions. The open-plan layout, with clear, perspex railings so you could see through to the next level below you, also leant a sense of anticipation to the exhibition as you could see glimpses of kimono to come, and compare the patterning to those you were currently appreciating.

Group 1 M2012_130_9  Group 1 M2013_49_1

 

What I appreciated most about this particular exhibition was the emphasis on re-interpretations of traditional Japanese art and kimono patterns in meisen, instead of the usual focus on cross-cultural references. For example, in the blue kimono above you could interpret the design as simply “polka dots” on a blue background, but thanks to the well-written tombstones that accompanied each kimono, it was revealed that multi-coloured dots had long been used in kimono as well as paintings to emphasize sun- or moon-dappled dew drops and had specific symbolism within Japanese art.

This is indeed how the exhibition starts, with three kimono featuring three very different uses of an enlarged, traditional arrow patterning. Each kimono is in a different color scheme, each reinterprets this symbol of samurai status in a new way, sometimes emphasizing it with palm fronds that were connected with sixteenth-century warlord, Oda Nobunaga, sometimes simply using the pattern in bold red, yellow, and gray colors. This also adds more layers to the meisen of both overt and subversive political messages.

For example, the “star-patterned” kimono at the beginning of the post also resembles the Japanese war flag of the rising sun with red rays. This kimono was made around 1940 and so while not as overt as some “propaganda” kimono of the same time period is a piece that might have been gotten away with post-war during the occupation. Another kimono from the 1950s or 1960s later on in the exhibition seems to depict a city scene at dawn, but while the sun isn’t visible the red rays associated with the war flag are seen beyond the mountains. Was this a quiet protest against American occupation, or a decree of loyalty even in the midst of defeat?

Group 1 M2013_58_4  M2013_58_2

 

I have often wondered if there were or weren’t political elements to meisen kimono. The height of their popularity coming in midst of patriotic and nationalistic fervor in the lead of to the second World War, while taking much of their inspiration from Western art movements is full of contradictions. On the one hand, the military industrial complex (bakufu) was very keen on adopting Western ways as a way of defeating both the West and Japan’s neighbors in battle. On the other hand, were the wearers of these kimono making political statements against war through their clothing? If so, is it not possible that those who had different political leanings might not do the same with their meisen?

I consider exhibitions that not only teach you something, but encourage you to re-evaluate perceptions of a particular art form and to ask questions to be the absolute best. Through the display, layout, grouping of various kimono, and informative tombstones, LACMA did just that.

They did not altogether ignore the Western influence, either. On many pieces, such as the third kimono featured in this review, they referenced not only the traditional art of screen paintings of landscapes, but the works of Impressionists and modern painters in the LACMA collection such as Matisse or Cezanne that might equally have influenced the design.

My only critique would be that all the kimono were displayed as you see in the images, none were mounted on mannequins. This however is a critique I have often of all kimono exhibitions, not LACMA in particular. I fully understand that this is the traditional method for displaying kimono in Japan, where they are admired as individual works of art in their own right; I also deeply admire LACMA’s conservation department turning to Japanese tradition when they were looking for new methods to store their kimono collection. However, since my personal fascination is with how such pieces were worn and who they were worn by, I would have loved to see at least one kimono dressed on a mannequin. Though I understand there might be conservation issues with displaying kimono this way.

This however, did not in any way diminish the exhibition. The display, use of the pavilion — even the touch of displaying one of the design books in Zuan on the pages the showed kimono designs — were magnificent. All of which combined to challenge perceptions of not only kimono, but perceptions I had about meisen kimono.

Kimono for a Modern Age will be on display in the pavilion for Japanese art at LACMA until October 12, 2014.

As always, if you have any thoughts, contributions, or want to notify me of an exhibition or events in your area please feel free to leave them in the comments, or to email me.

Comments

A Postcard from Abroad: Autumnal Activities in London

This is the time of year when academic life goes up a gear as we begin our teaching and learning programmes, embrace a new cohort of students and welcome back the older ones.  It is also a time of great pressure and the weight of the so many ‘to do’ lists can become unbearable! So, between running around like a maniac and wanting to stick my head in the ground, I am taking this opportunity to mention some autumn activities worth noting.

There would seem to be a buzz for f20th century fashion photography exhibitions this winter as we see two retrospectives open at the V&A and Somerset House.  The former features Horst. The Photographer of Style and is on until 4 January.  Featuring many unseen prints and restored colour photographs, the exhibition explores the prolific work of Horst P. Horst, the photographer whose work redefined fashion photography during the 1930s and 1940s.   Covering a later period but no less esteemed fashion photographer, Somerset House hosts Guy Bourdin: Image Maker from 27 November until 15 March 2015.  Showing over 100 works, spanning his 40 year long career, the exhibition is curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shelly Verthime and will also include the entire ‘Walking Legs’ series, his iconic campaign commissioned by Charles Jourdan in 1979 (and from which the above image is taken from).

An intriguing exhibition at Sotherbys S/2 Gallery entitled Stitched Up caught my eye and is open until the end of September. This small display of pieces by contemporary artists working in the medium of textiles claims to show the historical relationship between contemporary art and textiles since the 1980s as well as shine a torch on the breadth of practices seen today.  I think this is worth a visit in order to see how textiles as an artistic medium has developed in the last 30 years, something that has yet to be done on a larger scale in the bigger design museums.

Staying with the art and fashion theme, I noticed there is an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery featuring a ‘psychological’ portrait of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Wood, the director of the much hyped film Fifty Shades of Grey and Turner Prize nominee.  Taylor-Wood presents 34 photographs that capture the interior of Chanel’s private apartment in Paris, which has been preserved since her death over 40 years ago.  The exhibition, called Second Floor, has been curated to coincide with London Fashion Week.

I’m excited to see an exhibition on dress and identity starting soon at the Design MuseumWomen Fashion Power opens on the 29 October until 26 April 2015 and offers us insights into how influential women have used dress to define and embellish their status.  Featuring 25 women and spanning over 150 years of fashion history, the exhibition features outfits and personal style stories from figures involved in fashion and music to politics and economics.

This also reminds me of a new book by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton which focuses on how women choose to dress as an integral aspect of their daily lived livesWomen in Clothes  seems to promote itself as a philosophical ponderance on what it means to get dressed, presented as a stream of dialogues rather than a set of rules.  I have yet to read it but understand that this is a take on fashion and dress that draws upon the conversations started in publications such as Worn Magazine, where clothes are rarely about fashion and almost always about stories relating to who we were, are and could be.   If you have read the book, it would be great to hear from you.  I am very interested to know what you think about this emerging interest in clothes as identity narratives; in the ‘getting dressed’ process might offer fashion and dress scholars new material to consider and reflect upon.

Lastly, I am excited to say that later this week I will visit the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion for the first time – it’s taken me a year to get an appointment!  I hope to share my experience at a later date but for now, it’s back to crazy running around!

 

Photo credit: Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan advertisement (1979) Accessed at http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/picture-galleries/2010/august/16/fashion-photography-guy-bourdin/?idx=12&idx=12

Comments

Back to School: Top Five Research Resources

It’s September, which means back to school!  There hasn’t been a single year when I am not completely preoccupied by what to wear on the first day of class.  Crafting and presenting my socio-intellectual-professional identity becomes a full-time project from the end of August until the start of term.  Taking the time to equip myself sartorially was always a helpful way to manage the uncertainty and anxiety of unknown classes, unfamiliar teachers and unforeseen changes amongst friends last seen before the summer break. As an adult, working out what to wear at this time helps me to get in the mood for teaching, moving away from the breezy feel of holidays towards a more disciplined aura manifest in the lace up shoes, sombre tones and heavy fabrics of my September wardrobe.

Yet, preparing to return to our studies means brushing up on our books as well as our winter warms.  So, to get ready for this academic year, I wanted to highlight my top five online fashion/textile/clothing resources that any budding scholar or thinker could add to their academic outfit and we don’t already feature here on Worn Through.

First up is the Fashion Research Network, a collaborative project developed by PhD students from the Royal College of Art and the Courtauld Institute of Art and set up in 2013 “in response to their own experiences of navigating the networks already open to fashion researchers.”  Not only does the website promote early career researchers but it is one of the few websites that attempts to bring all the various strands of fashion research together into one space, where conferences and courses can be browsed simultaneously.

Second up is the University of Brighton’s listings of dress collections in museums put together by Prof Lou Taylor and Dr Charlotte Nicklas in July 2011.  This comprehensive list offers fashion researchers a wealth of information concerning dress/textile collections in the South, South East and South West of England.

In third place is the Vintage Fashion Guild ‘s Label Resource, which enables those with an interest in history and clothes to begin tracing the retail lineage of loved garments through their labels.  Although this resource is aimed at vintage buyers and sellers, the information provided is fascinating for anyone who has ever wanted to know more about the story of their worn clothes.

Taking fourth position is Behind the Seams, Vice Magazine’s collection of fashion and dress documentaries. Online access to interesting leftfield films about apparel, particularly from a global perspective, is not easy which is why this site is so valuable.  I only wish that films were added more frequently, thereby building upon this unique archive.

A still from Bulletproof Fashion, a Behind the Seams film about Bogata’s tailoring industry which specialises in protective clothing for bodyguards and UN officials

My last choice is Documenting Fashion, a dress history blog set up by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress and Textiles, and students studying textiles and dress at the Courtald Institute of Art in London in 2013.  This collective approach to writing about dress and fashion provides a good model of academic research whereby both student and teacher’s interests inform one another’s work within a public information forum.

If you know of any other online resources that you would like to share with our community, please do let us know via the comments below.  Alternatively, if you have an idea for something that does not currently exist, we would love to hear from you!

(Top image is a collage by Alexis Romano taken from the Documenting Fashion website)

2 Comments

Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion at the FTM

IMG_0130

For my second summer exhibition review, I went to see Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture & Fashion at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Publicised as a first, this exhibition attempts to consider the rebozo, a shawl worn by Mexican women since the 17th century, through displays that consider historical context, cultural identification with well-known Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo, social functions and the influence on contemporary art and fashion in Mexico today.

IMG_0116

Examples of rebozos made in the 1950s and arranged to evoke the style of Frida Kahlo who wore them often.

Given that the Fashion and Textile Museum is housed in a building designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and that many of the earlier designs by the museum’s founder, Zandra Rhodes, are inspired by Mexican culture, it is not a surprise to find the exhibition here.

IMG_0158

Here, you can see contemporary rebozo designs by British designers Zandra Rhodes on the right with a white feather screenprint on a cotton rayon mix and on the left, a wool patterned design by Wallace & Sewell

There is certainly a celebratory feel throughout the space as artists, designers and anthropologists display their enthusiasm for the rebozo by providing photographs, films and contemporary interpretations alongside material examples that cover every possible fabric and motif.

IMG_0140

The main room which featured displays of rebozos juxtaposed with art installations and photographs from the Mexican anthropologist Ruth Lechuga (1920 – 2004)

The main room is given over to a dynamic display of these beautiful coverings, demonstrating the diversity of Mexican female society. There is a rebozo here for everyone, from plain to fancy, soft to hard, flat to sculptural, raw to recycled.

IMG_0154

Appliqued cotton rebozo made by Mamaz Collective, a group of women from Tanivet, Oaxaca in 2014. It shows how women wear and use the rebozo in their daily lives.

IMG_0147

A detail from a rebozo owned by Lila Downs, a popular singer-songwriter in Mexico

The rebozo can be made with pompoms, silk, feathers or glass beads. It can be woven from silk, wool, cotton or even constructed out of teabags. A rebozo can be both abstract and figurative, sharing stripy details or offering up appliquéd people. A rebozo can identify you with both a particular region of Mexico and the country as a whole.

IMG_0136

Photographs by Tom Feher of Dominga weaving a rebozo, 2010

There are fantastic images by Tom Feher of women weaving rebozos, such as Dominga, which show how these complex garments are made using a relatively simple back strap loom. Although the practice of wearing these shawls originates from the Spanish conquest and the emphasis on women covering their heads in church, their production is clearly the result of methods developed by earlier indigenous people of Mexico. As a result, the rebozo is an object of interest for collectors, artists and anthropologists as they continually seek to identify its cultural significance.

IMG_0135

Detail of a traditional back strap loom

However, there is another reason for having this exhibition other than having a celebration.  Production of rebozos has gone from involving a third of the Mexican population to less than forty people scattered across the country. And of those left, there are only two who use the traditional back loom while the rest use a foot loom, introduced through colonialisation (1).

The craft of the rebozo is clearly in decline and current generations seem less interested in learning the skills and knowledge required to make these emblematic objects. The display of contemporary art and fashion inspired by the rebozo suggests that their importance is not lost and Mexican designers today are keen to continue indigenous skills and materials.

IMG_0164

An jaspe rebozo jacket designed by Beatriz Russek, 1990

I particularly enjoyed the garments designed by Carmen Rion and Beatriz Russek, known for their collaborations with Mexican indigenous weaving communities and who have created some striking modern designs. While the exhibition highlights the significance of artists re-interpreting the rebozo, the highlight for me was a film of weavers talking about the process of making a rebozo. They described a sense of ‘urgency’ felt when weaving as they became closer and closer to finishing the rebozo and became more and more curious about whose shoulders it might finally embrace. I was transfixed by this narrative as I imagined what it would be like to weave these objects, spending up to sixty days on one rebozo, thinking about who might this shawl belong to one day. Capturing what it feels like to produce something seems critical when inspiring current generations to value and utilise historical skills and knowledge in the future.

IMG_0162

Recent designs by Carmen Rion using the rebozo form to create blouses and skirts

(1) Virginia David and Hilary Steele, The Rebozo: A Mexican Tradition, Fibrearts, vol35 no1 60-1 Summer 2008, p60-61

 

 

Comments

Domestic Affairs: Lines on the Horizon at the de Young

WP_20140807_026

The textile galleries at the de Young Museum in San Francisco are not small. I am very well acquainted with them due to my frequent trips to the city — typically because there is an exhibition on at the de Young or the Legion of Honour I very much wanted to see, and heaven forbid I visit one without going to the other. Unlike their blockbuster Bulgari and Balenciaga exhibitions, the gallery space has not been manipulated or altered in any way, and yet Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art From the Weisel Family Collection is a very intimate exhibition, despite its completely open floorplan. Intimate to the point that when someone besides a small child does speak loudly, the rest of the visitors almost look at each other sideways in silent reproof for this breach of the ambiance.

I do not know whether his intimacy was intended or was a happy accident, but it fits the exhibition to a tee. The word foremost in my mind to describe the artwork in this exhibition is delicate. Even the boldly patterned, bright cochineal red and rich indigo blue Navajo serapes, seemed delicately beautiful. The tiny brush strokes, the purposeful creation of an overall effect in thousand-year-old pottery, the individuality in each piece that the exhibition’s curators invite and encourage you to seek. Details do not overwhelm, nor do they compete with the larger picture, but they are given their own spotlight.

The exhibition is the debut of a new donation by Thomas Weisel of a collection he and his family have spent thirty years creating, which spans a millennium. Seventy-two art objects including pottery, baskets, carvings, textiles, and drawings are on display at the de Young until January 4, 2015. This is only a portion of the 185 pieces already donated to the de Young, and a further 21 textiles which will be officially acquired by the museum by 2016. The Weisel Family collection focuses primarily on the artwork of the American Southwest, with a few pieces from the Pacific Northwest.

WP_20140807_017

The guiding purpose of the collection — and the exhibition inaugurating it into the museum’s permanent collection — is connoisseurship. Not in the sense of value of each particular object, but in that rarity among non-western, non-contemporary art: determining the individual artist. Thomas Weisel collected with a carefully trained eye, trying to find pieces by the same maker. According to the catalogue, “A driving interest behind the selection of specific works for the Weisel Family Collection is the hypothesis that it is possible to identify individual artists … through sustained observation and comparison among objects in the same style.” This is an ambitious goal, but one that the collection succeeds in fulfilling. The intimacy I described invites you to look closer — as closely as the gallery attendants will allow — to pick out details, find continuity among pieces whether because they were made by the same hand, family, or wider community.

When you enter the gallery it is hard to ignore the textiles. This is perhaps due to the prestige of Navajo textiles, but I think it is more due to the bold colors, the distinctive patterns, and the sheer beauty of the pieces. Despite there being more pottery in the exhibition than textiles, it is one of the “Chief” blankets that graces the cover of the catalogue — they catch your attention and pull you in.

WP_20140807_004  WP_20140807_002

All of the textiles featured are the work of the Dineh (Navajo) people. In her contribution to the catalogue, curator of the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Department of Textile Arts, Jill D’Alessandro, describes the history of Navajo weaving, and the development of their distinctive style from its Pueblo origins to the “Classic” period represented by the textiles in the exhibition. Most fascinating for me, since I confess a great deal of ignorance on the topic of Southwest indigenous textiles, was the suggestions of a greater trade network, of greater communication and exchange among the indigenous peoples of America through these trade and sale of these textiles. I am always intrigued by the communication and exchange of ideas and material goods between peoples — and have long felt there is a bias to portray the Native Americans as a single unit instead of the multiple and diverse nations they are. This cultural exchange is most apparent in the so-called “Chief” blankets featured in Lines on the Horizon – four pieces spanning the breadth of the style’s lifespan. These pieces, despite being less boldly colored, are the ones I most admired. They gain their name not from their use within the Navajo, but because they were purchased for use by chiefs of various Plains tribes. The Navajo did not have chiefs, but the Plains Indians did, and Navajo textiles were so desirable the Navajo made pieces for trade with Plains peoples, such as the four blankets made for chiefs of the Ute tribes.

WP_20140807_014

The “stages” of the blankets do not indicate ranks within Ute society, but instead developments within the style by the Navajo. So that from the beautiful simplicity of the “first stage” blankets (see the far left above and the image below), the style gradually developed over the course of 35 to 40 years, into the more intricate, geometric patterns seen in the final “third stage” in the far right of the image above. The later stage no doubt had a major influence on the art deco period of the late 1920s and the 1930s due to a vogue for “Primitivism” — seeing the famous art deco building at 450 Sutter in San Francisco later the same day as my visit, it is easy to see how far short the imitators fell.

In her essay for the catalogue, D’Alessandro also discusses how the years of turmoil between the early 1800 and the mid- to late half of the century affected Navajo weaving. There is not only the displacement of the tribal peoples as they were forced onto reservations interrupting trade, but amidst the tragedy and the “battles fought among Native Americans, Spanish Americans, Mexicans, and European Americans for control of the western territories” the Navajo were exposed to a vast array of new artistic styles, materials, and perspectives — as well as new markets — that influenced and evolved the style and design of their weavings. The Classic period of Navajo weaving seems to be proof of triumph through turmoil for the arts.

WP_20140807_005 WP_20140807_012

The exhibition is a very comprehensive examination of artistry within the Southwest and Pacific northwest Native American artistic communities. To select one type of art “ove”r another is impossible. However, as a dress and textile historian after the textiles the pieces that most struck me were the depictions of the various Peoples by their own. A small taste of this was found in the bowl to the left above (ca 1450 – 1550, Sikyatki people), but the coup de grace was in the ledger drawings by Tsistsistas (Cheyenne).

WP_20140807_022

In fact, I think I would be fair in saying these small, delicate drawings on blank, lined, ledger sheets were the pieces that have most fascinated me in the entire exhibition. The pieces featured are known as “The Old White Woman Ledger,” due to a tiny pictograph in several of the pieces portraying a hunched female figure with a cane (seen in the top center of the artwork below). This pictograph enticingly suggests that the pieces are all from the same artist, but close (intimate?) examination shows tiny differences in style which suggest a community if not a single hand. The ledger drawings in the Weisel Family Collection all portray one aspect of Cheyenne life: courtship ritual. As described in the catalogue, “A young man wooing a young woman would stand outside her residence, wearing a blanket. If she assented, the two could share the more private space defined by the blanket.” What a beautiful way to integrate textiles into one of the most important rituals of life.

WP_20140807_024 WP_20140807_020

For a people silenced by history and its recorders, the beauty of seeing them as they saw themselves through these drawings is beyond description. There is also the underlying message: that creative impulse cannot be suppressed. Matthew H. Robb says in his essay on the ledger drawings that artistic expression followed gender lines — women wove, beaded, and did quillwork as well as the more abstract painting of rawhide containers, whereas figural imagery on animal hides was the purview of men. In these ledger drawings we see the evolution of that tradition: denied access to the larger, asymmetric hides they were accustomed to, they transferred their drawings to the ledger paper they either bartered for or bought or even absconded with after an altercation. What further proof of the importance of an art form can you find than that the materials for it are a war trophy? This is how they saw themselves. This is their own perspective and portrayal of what they wore. Something priceless to material culturists and art historians.

In so many other exhibitions I can imagine, such drawings would have been lost. In the intimacy of the de Young’s Lines on the Horizon, they — and every other object displayed — had their chance to shine.

The other important aspect of this exhibition I came away with was the emphasis on the maker/artist/creative individual or community. It is a dichotomy, but I simultaneously admired the exquisitely beautiful pieces in this exhibition for themselves — not because there was a famous name attached — but also because of the invitation by the collection and the museum to look at each object as the individual creation of a specific person. Staring at some of the pottery, the wood carvings, the textiles, the sketches, you felt the hand reaching across the millenia, the centuries to say: I was here. This is what I saw. This is what I thought worth remembering.

Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection is on display in the Textile Galleries of the de Young until January 4, 2015.

As always, I welcome news about specific exhibitions and events. Feel free to leave information about them in the comments — along with your own reactions to exhibitions covered or my post. Feel free to email me with tips and comments as well.

Comments

Review: Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House

The Return of the Rudeboy captures a contemporary snapshot of the Rudeboy culture with a display of photographic portraits, art installations and recreations in order to demonstrate that a subcultural identity with roots in 1950s Jamaica is still alive and well in 21st century Britain.  With their credentials as photographer and creative director respectively, the curators Dean Chalkley and Harris Elliot have created an exhibition based upon a shared interest in menswear, subcultural style and contemporary consumption.

The first room of the exhibition featuring piled up suitcases as photographic frames

The exhibition is made up of five rooms that allow the visitor to wander through and tentatively identify with the Rudeboy subculture, be it through historical context, stylistic devices, musical tastes, urban locations or consumer choices.   In the first room, you are faced with several sculptures made from stacked suitcases, some of which are open to reveal contemporary portraits of ‘rudies’. These luggage balancing acts make reference to the immigration of many from the West Indies and Africa to Britain in the second half of the 20th century, thus sowing the seed for the Rudeboy style amongst young men and women in urban centres across the country.  On entering the second room, you find yourself amongst a lookbook of Rudeboy attires, modelled by invisible mannequins, many of which have been put together by Sam Lambert, an Angolan artist/tailor and a self confessed Rudeboy.  There is also an installation by the artist Catherine Jane Willis, whose handmade boxes draw attention to the influence of the ‘Sunday best’ look that underpins Rudeboy dress.

Sartorial creations by Sam Lambert, Art comes First

The third room is the recreation of a barbershop that is in use twice a week and where you can experience the literal buzz by watching Johnnie Sapong groom visitors in the Rudeboy style.  The fourth room focuses on the contemporary consumption associated with the subculture, epitomised by a ‘stepper’ bike designed specifically for the exhibition.  The final room, with speakers piled up on one another to create a soundsystem, refers to the important role that music plays in connecting and creating a subcultural identity.  An extensive soundtrack choreographed by the curators and played throughout the exhibition reinforces this.

Johnnie Sapong in the barbershop recreation within the exhibition

What all the rooms have in common are vivid photographic portraits of individuals from across the UK representing what Chalkley and Elliot see as the best stylistic examples of current Rudeboy culture.  Interestingly, these are both women and men, young and old, black and white.  However, unless you are familiar with these people already, the exhibition offers you very little in the way of information other than their name, displayed on a small label under each portrait.

Portraits of contemporary Rudeboys from across the UK photographed in East and West London location

It would seem that in this exhibition just their title is enough to establish their credentials as modern Rudeboy aristocracy.  It is the absence of information regarding biography, locale or motivation that meant I found myself in a three-dimensional compendium of Rudeboy tastemakers, supported by a cast of artistic displays that failed to shed any new light on how and why such a subcultural identity may still be important today.  Many of the figures on display, for example, draw our attention to the influence of globalisation, the African diaspora and post-colonialism on the continuity of Rudeboy style yet you will only discover this if you read around, and not in, the exhibition.

I also wondered why the exhibition wasn’t called ‘Rudie’, another term for ‘rudeboy’, given the fact that today’s Rudeboy could be female and/or no longer a young boy.   The dominant demographic of my fellow visitors seemed to be fathers with children who showed little sartorial interest in identifying with Rudeboys today.  The only person who appeared to embrace the style that day was a mature black woman whose genuine enthusiasm for the images and the culture bubbled out of her dress and comments as she walked around the exhibition.  This delight was noted by other visitors who proffered compliments on her Rudeboy attire.

One of several portraits of female Rudeboys

The curators suggest that the exhibition is an introduction to the subculture, in terms of its attitude and appearance.  I agree that the imposing portraits certainly command the viewer to accept that who they see are the legitimate inheritors of a stylistic lineage.  I also agree with the curators that this exhibition attempts to fill a gap in the market if only to persuade you that your recent attempt to dress like Janelle Monae or purchasing Mr Hare’s shoes are so culturally important as to be economically justified.  However, for me, this is less an introduction and more of an attempt to retain a hold on subcultural capital by re-fashioning the past into an array of consumable baroque objects that tell us who is in and who is out.

Comments

Parisian Insights: Paris 1900

When I first heard about the Paris 1900 exhibition held at the Petit Palais, I must admit I was quite immediately excited about it. Not knowing anything about it, something inside me believed I would love it and I wasn’t disappointed. For those of you who may not know the Petit Palais, it can surely be considered as one of Paris’ loveliest museums with its beautiful Beaux Arts style architecture, decorated with impressive frescos and mosaics.  Housing the city’s fine arts museum, it was specially erected for Paris’ Exposition Universelle in 1900 and thus stands as the perfect location for an exhibition dedicated to that particular time. On the pretext of the International Exhibition, the display introduces visitors to Paris’s splendid and luxurious context during the Belle Epoque. Organized like the Exposition itself, Paris 1900 is organized into 6 sections – 6 pavilions that all highlight the different aspects of the French capital’s cultural and artistic life. The exhibition demonstrates how spectacular this moment in Paris’ history has been, nourished by about 600 pieces (I think I have actually never seen so many artefacts in one space!) that mingle scientific rigor and pure aesthetic pleasure. From oral and social history to official art and innovative design, the display spans this unique cultural moment with a very rich (almost too rich: there is so much to look at) documentation: Mucha posters, letters, models, films by the Lumière brothers, a real metro entrance by Hector Guimard, paintings, sculptures and costumes. The whole within an impressive yet simple scenography.

Julius Leblanc Stewart - Redemption, 1895

Julius Leblanc Stewart – Redemption, 1895

The first section thus immediately brings our attention on the Exposition Universelle itself and all the architectural projects and decors, built or not, that accompanied it. This first part also celebrates the emergence of modernity with electricity, cinematography, the motor industry…that all supported the festivities’ atmosphere.  A triumphant modernity that liberated imagination leading to such projects as the Eiffel Tower, the Petit and Grand Palais, the Alexandre III bridge, metro and railway lines….that enhanced Paris’ splendor as it was at the centre of the world’s attention. The visitor is introduced to the second section dedicated to Art Nouveau by a dancing Loie Fuller filmed by Pathé, in 1900: her innovative choreographies and her sinuous nature-inspired gestures perfectly echo the lines of the Art Nouveau furniture, decors and objects.

Callot Soeurs - 1905

Callot Soeurs – 1905

Not being an exhibition about Art Nouveau, there is no academic approach to the movement within this section, simply a stunning ensemble of artefacts that all highlight the work of the Art Nouveau’s pioneers and put the visitors in the skin of the Exposition’s wealthy art-lovers. Alongside Majorelle furniture, Gallé delicate objects and Lalique precious jewelry, are presented two ‘avant-garde’ costumes that evoke the concept of total art promoted by the movement. These simple white outfits bear very graphic adornments that evoke the stylistic researches of Art Nouveau artists. The third section establishes what an art centre the French capital was with a hanging evocative of classic 19th century museums – that is an accumulation on the wall, all the way up to the ceiling.

Paul Troubetzkoy – La mère et l’enfant, 1898

Paul Troubetzkoy – La mère et l’enfant, 1898

21st century visitors being used to the white cube concept do get quite disoriented as there are many artworks to observe and you have to raise the neck high (and get blind by the spotlights) to be able to look at the highest pieces: I did appreciate the historical reference but it definitely wasn’t very practical. Nevertheless, this room overflowed with incredible works from Auguste Rodin’s sculptures to the Nabi’s almost abstract experimentations, Symbolist disturbing legends and the Impressionist serene landscapes. Strangely, although the selection is clearly eclectic, there is a certain sense of harmony that can be felt, as though, more than reflecting about different artistic movements, the section simply provides an insight into the period’s global creativity.

Tea Gown, 1898-1899

Tea Gown, 1898-1899

The following section highlights the mythic figure of the admired Parisienne and how her persona was greatly built at the turn of the century with the help of the Exposition that brought much of foreigners’ attention on the feminine characters of the city. A contemporary journalist described her as ‘distinguished from other women by an understated elegance appropriate to every circumstance in life. Her characteristics are restraint, good taste, innate refinement and that indefinable something which is unique to her, a mixture of allure and modernism that we call chic.’ Thus the Parisienne rapidly was identified as not only a geographical cliché but more as a chic attitude that could be embodied by elegant duchesses as well as popular ‘midinettes’. The ‘pavilion’ we enter proposes art pieces that evoke the various representations of the Parisienne, will it be through photographies or paintings and mostly with her very own objects – costumes, jewelry and accessories – the whole drawing the picture of a mythified as well as a real woman. The little number of fashion artefacts (all lent by the Musée Galliera) are mostly spectacular pieces such as a lovely tea gown that belonged to the French comedian, Réjane, a majestic cape earned by the Duchesse de Greffuhle and a Redfern ensemble made for Anna Gould.

Evening Dress - Jacques Doucet, 1900

Evening Dress – Jacques Doucet, 1900

The two last sections highlight Paris’ night and entertainment life made of cafés, bals, cheeky cabarets, drama pieces conducted by the iconic persona of Sarah Bernhardt, operas and early experimental films. The dark side of 1900’s Parisian life is supposedly demonstrated with references to morphine and brothels. I must admit I did not find the rendering of Paris’ dark side that dark: the scenography privileged humour and a certain glamour with portraits of the city’s legendary courtesans that mostly leave us thinking that the period was free-spirited and fun rather than glaucous although we do know poverty, absinthe, drugs and prostitution were serious issues. Focusing on the Parisienne part as it enclosed the fashion objects, the exhibition definitely points out to the fact that she was entirely indissociable from the urban environment she evolved in, the reason why tailored masculine-like ensembles popularized by Redfern met with such success as they enabled Parisian women to stroll around  in their city with dark and practical yet elegant outfits – the ancestor of the perfect little black dress! The Parisienne also helped establish the fame of the capital’s couture houses and craftsmanship: the Made in Paris concept becoming highly popular. The display confirms how limited the avant-garde’s influence was – fashion privileged the S shaped silhouettes (although we could say these sinuous forms did resemble that of the Art Nouveau creations) and historical motifs. What disturbed me is how the exhibition has restricted the feminine figure to the ‘frivolities’ of fashion, domestic affairs or to sexual pleasures: I know women did experience such confinements but the art section lacked art pieces made by women as well as I would have wished to see masculine fashion that would have also helped us draw the outlines of the male parisian.

Henri Alexandre Gervex - Une soirée au Pré Catelan, 1909

Henri Alexandre Gervex – Une soirée au Pré Catelan, 1909

In the whole, Paris 1900 illustrates how inventive, spectacular and unleashed the city was, establishing close interactions between art, social and design history. It does not concentrate on precise academic issues nor does it analyse modernity and experimental works but it definitely makes the visitors feel as if they were participating to the Exposition Universelle’s exciting fiesta. I greatly appreciated the fact that fashion was not left out as it does evoke how important this creative discipline was considered within international exhibitions within which they were given special lavish displays: fashion was undeniably part of a whole artistic and cultural context – a partner of high art.

 

Further Resources: The exhibition’s catalogue is very interesting (I did treat myself with it):

Bosc, Alexandra. Paris 1900: La Ville Spectacle. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.

Rose, Clare. Art Nouveau Fashion. London: V& A Publishing, 2014.

Comments