Is Fashion an Art?

September 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

September not only means the start of the new academic year. While millions of children and students around the world are readying themselves for essays and lectures, the world’s sartorial elite cast their eyes to New York, London, Paris and Milan for a month of four consecutive weeks of fashion. What does this have to do with art I hear you cry? Seemingly little, but as you begin to look behind the surface, you will begin to see that is not the case.

This article was originally inspired by Miley Cyrus, whose name refuses to budge from the covers of tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines for her raunchy antics and questionable dress sense. However she has now delved into the visual arts, having just presented her first art collection ‘dirty hippie’ in collaboration with Jeremy Scott at New York fashion week. Her ‘artwork’ does not consist of the generic paintings one might expect, but accessories, which I suppose we could call sculpture. This leads to asking the age-old question: firstly, what constitutes as art and secondly, how should it be presented?

Surely (and conventionally) a museum or gallery would have been a more appropriate setting for Cyrus’s art, however given the name the singer has made for herself, nothing should really surprise us. Artist-fashion designer collaborations are nothing new. Marina Abramovic has previously collaborated with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci as has Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton. While this appears to be a new phenomenon, the recent Artist Textiles Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum proves that these collaborations have been around for nearly a century (beginning their show from the 1920s). While one cannot go around wearing a Picasso painting, the artist did personally approve fabric to be made from his art that people could wear.

Fashion exhibitions are becoming more and more commonplace. While this may be a positive and indeed it must be for museum and visitor numbers, what does it mean for art exhibitions? While I am known amongst friends for constantly spending time in galleries and at exhibitions, it is seldom that people suggest accompanying me. However this is a very different story when a fashion exhibition opens, when I suddenly become very popular. The recent Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which opens at the V&A in London next year, saw record visitor numbers for the museum with people queuing round the block. Where previously very few fashion exhibitions were on offer there are now plenty to choose from and I have also noticed myself writing more and more articles about shows of clothes and style.

While fashion has successfully muscled it’s way into the art world by using its exhibition venues, it is still worth questioning whether it is in fact art at all. Miley Cyrus’s offerings at New York Fashion Week certainly could be argued favourably in this way as she had the intention of creating art. In spite of that, many garments that end up on display in galleries and museums were simply designed to be functioning items of clothing and not lauded over like masterpiece paintings. It is worth considering then, whether that vintage Chanel suit hanging in the museum is an artwork or a highly collectible antique.

A trip to the Fan Museum

September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Even after having lived on the outskirts of London my entire life, as venues open and close, there will always be something new to discover. I recently made my first trip to the Fan Museum in Greenwich, which, despite opening two years before I was born, had alluded me until now.

The fan museum is small, sweet, quaint and petite. From the outside it does not have the appearance of a museum at all. However, its door handles that are adorned with fans hint at the content of the building. When I say that the fan motif is everywhere, I mean it. Even the bathroom, which really was very impressive, has been covered with them, even the soap was fan-shaped. I could see that I wasn’t the only fan (pun intended) as an award had been hung proudly on the mirror. I didn’t know bathroom awards existed until now, but trust me when I say; the Fan Museum definitely deserved it.

Moving away from lavatory decoration to the museum’s collection that tells the story of the origins and evolution of the fan throughout history. Though small, this is well displayed across two rooms on the ground floor of the museum. This begins with a series of fan leaves that have been taken and unfolded from their original supports. So intricate are these fans that one would be forgiven for mistaking them for miniature or small-scale oil paintings. In this first room the status associated with the fan is displayed with many fans being adorned with decorations of royal courts from all over Europe as well as other mythical and historical events.

The following room concentrated on the materials that fans have been constructed out of throughout time with fans made out of ivory, tortoiseshell and my favourite, mother of pearl. These are displayed adjacent to fans from all over the world from the orient to the amazon. The viewer leaves this room after being confronted by a cheeky nod to modern fans with the inclusion of a dyson fan.

Upstairs is space for temporary exhibitions, which currently focuses on the history of fans and advertising with the inclusion of fans made out of beer bottles.

This hidden treasure in Greenwich is well worth a visit. I am definitely a fan!

Seduced: Fans & The Art of Advertising is on display at The Fan Museum until 28 September

Why I Admire Artists

September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Given that this blog celebrates art and everything about it, I rarely write a great deal about artists. Most of my articles have been about works of art and the display of them, however the creators of these pieces are pushed into the background. Now however, I am going to explain just why I admire artists and why you might too!

Firstly, artists have a strong backbone. On a personal level they put themselves on the line. They are self-employed meaning that they have no one to hide behind, meaning they put themselves under huge risk concerning financial security, especially when trying to become established. Furthermore, being self-employed also means that if issues arise surrounding their work they do not have colleagues or corporations to support them, in short, there is nowhere to hide.

Another example of a strong sense of character is in the courage and determination in taking the decision to actually be an artist itself. Thousands of students every year go to study at art colleges; however how many of them actually decide to make art once they have graduated? Not many. It takes guts to decide to go against the grain and opt to make art instead of working in an office.

The act of being an artist also shows a sense of dedication and determination in a culture where there is so much competition and little room for success. This sense of fortitude allows an artist to withstand ignorant comments like the famous remark: ‘a five year old could do it.’ Where I might argue that if a five year is able to do this then why have you not done something ten times more spectacular? Yes a five year old may be able to make the same marks on paper, but would said five year old be able to approach a gallery, come up with a concept behind the work and market themselves to a public in order to bring themselves fame and fortune? No, I didn’t think so either.

The final reason why I admire artists is the way in which the most famous are still remembered throughout history. On a personal note as an art historian and as a point of comparison, how many people study or could name a famous art historian? Only art historians themselves, and very few at that. However, how many people could reel off a list of artists? Probably the vast majority. Even compared to the entertainment industry where we still remember musicians and actors throughout the past century, there are still more artists throughout time as famous and remembered figures within our own society. You would be hard pushed to name a singer or actress from renaissance Italy but it would only take a moment to remember the art of Michelangelo and Raphael.

Hopefully after having read this you will have a little more respect for an artist who has gained fame from what appears to be a squiggle on a piece of crumpled up paper.

Today’s Specials @ Pace

August 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

In front of the entrance of the Pace gallery in Burlington Gardens is a large menu listing the day’s specials. This doesn’t seem too surprising at first as the area is full of top restaurants and there is an eatery inside the building. However, upon closer inspection, instead of edible dishes, the specials board is taken over by a list of contemporary artists, thus giving us a clue as to what is inside the gallery doors.

This exhibition pokes fun at our interest in food, photography and the combination of the two, which has seen hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of diners across the world taken pictures of their gourmet food and uploading them onto social media before eating it. I would be surprised if at least half of those reading this article have not been guilty of this at least once (I know I have been many times). Although the exhibition also features sculpture, video and installation, it is photography that appears to dominate, which could not be more relevant in the current global climate where we feel the need to take pictures and upload them everywhere to show what we have been doing.

The show which has been presented in collaboration with Saudi-born but London-based art collector Abdullah AlTurki is international in its range of artists on display as well as the food shown in the work. Everything from Italian spaghetti and meatballs to ramen noodles, sushi and kebabs is on show here, so don’t worry, this menu is suitable for everyone. In his video Eating Landscape, Song Dong presents a scene where meat and fish make up the landscape that is then destroyed by a moving hand and chopsticks which begin to eat the food. Around the corner we are then presented with a rotating kebab machine created by Keith Coventry, cast in bronze and a dark juxtaposition to the bright colours of Song Dong’s landscape.

In terms of photography one is spoilt for choice. However, standouts for me were Elad Lassry’s bright blue eggs and Fan Zhong’s ramen. The simplicity of these two works is what made them really stand out. Also noteworthy are Mat Collishaw’s images from his series documenting last meals on death row. These are in a huge contrast to the aforementioned photographs that are bright and vibrant. Collishaw’s pictures are dark and gloomy. They remind me of still life vanities paintings, full of memento mori. In a way, these have the same affect, they are a reminder that life ends, and they will end with that particular meal. Even the backdrop and table on which the food is presented are as dark as can be, and the dark wooden frames in which they are displayed make them even more austere.

I would also like to mention the work of Yto Barrada and Mona Hatoum whose work both focuses on the post-dining environment and the packaging in which food is packed in. Barrada’s Papier Plies is a series of dirty take away packets and serviettes which have been used and discarded, perhaps a response to show what happens once the food has been devoured. Similarly, Mona Hatoum presents an image of an empty cardboard take away box in which she has drawn a map of the world to show how easy it is to eat cuisine anywhere on the planet.

This exhibition certainly is delicious. However, just like a good meal, a lot of preparation and work has gone on in order to plate up the finished dish. There is certainly more than meets the surface.

Today’s Specials is on display at Pace London until 6th September

Parker Ito @ White Cube, Mason’s Yard

August 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Uh huh, honey. Three words (words?!), that I never expected to hear inside a gallery. However, the world’s most talked about couple (I’m talking Kimye/Kim Kardashian and Kanye West here), have managed to get themselves featured in the form of West’s music video for Bound 2, inside an art installation at White Cube in Mayfair.

I am almost 100% certain that this exhibition is nothing like anything that you’ve ever seen before. White Cube is playing host to the work of Parker Ito, or rather Parker Cheeto, his alias in a spread of paintings and installations across two floors. The works are continually juxtaposing one another in an almost jarring fashion and I honestly believed it to be a group exhibition until I reread the press release, although it was an easy mistake to make as Ito credits nine other artists for the work. You can get an impression to just how enigmatic the show is just by its title: Maid in Heaven/En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem). The show should give the viewer a headache yet it manages to just about work.

On the ground floor, the viewer enters a gallery of white walls, with hanging tube lights and flowerpots interspersed inside the space. In the centre of the room is a flat screen television, which is playing the Kanye West music video, which makes the already bizarre space seem even stranger. Between the lights are chains hanging down from the ceiling, which apparently had live parrots hanging on them at the private view. The walls then mirror what is lying across the floor and hanging from the ceiling with canvases decorated with mash-ups of flowers, landscapes and chains. It all sounds a little over the top right? Well, it was only a warm up to what was to come downstairs.

As you walk down the stairs you begin to realise that this show is atypical. The walls are no longer white as they have been painted from ground to ceiling and the shiny floor has been replaced with glittery red carpet. The wall paintings are covered with comic book, anime style images. Think pop art that has been injected with a large dose of 21st-century technology. On top of these images, Cheeto, (or Ito?), has scribbled his own thoughts across in white pen. These include such musings as ‘afro girls, plaid pants, #trippy graphics’, ‘a lack of confidence is holding me in life’ and ‘a lil taste of Cheeto in the night.’ The whole experience is mind boggling yet fascinating at the same time. As well as the wall art and hanging lights and chains, large canvases are also being draped from the ceiling. These are decorated on both the front and back and have other images collaged and pasted all over them. My favourite of these is a nod to the ‘love is’ cartoons from the 1970s by Kim Grove Casali.

So much is included in this exhibition that it would be impossible to list it all. It is a captivating and absorbing look inside the head of Parker Ito as well as an homage to contemporary culture and I urge everyone to go and get lost and confused inside the White Cube (which has now become a sort of rainbow cube) as soon as they have the chance.

Maid in Heaven/En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem is on display White Cube, Mason’s Yard until 27 September

Feminism in Contemporary Art

August 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Warning: This post may be controversial.

A few months ago I was invited to a one-day exhibition of contemporary feminist art consisting of paintings, installations and performances. To be honest I have never quite completely understood the usual approach to feminism in contemporary art. Yes, I am for feminism, however, personally, I do not see how depicting bloodied vaginas and women in uncompromising positions is of any benefit to women. Despite this, I decided to attend the show to see if I would change my mind. I didn’t.

The walls of this particular exhibition were mainly covered with images of breasts and vaginas on the bodies of unidealised and unairbrushed women, often at crude angles with either no face or obscuring the woman’s facial features so as not to be identifiable. This is my main issue with a lot of contemporary feminist art. Why do we need to have women publicly celebrating their genitalia? Furthermore, by obscuring their faces, doesn’t this objectify women even more?

Yes these women are not perfect. Yes society puts pressure on us to look a certain way. And yes it is great that these women have real bodies and real body parts, complete with hair and individuality. However, men are also put under the same scrutiny in our current social climate, but we don’t see male artists reacting in the same way. If a male artist painted a series of images of his penis, I’m almost certain that it would receive a negative reaction. So, why do females feel the need to do so? I do understand that these unshaven bodies may be a reaction to the way the female body has historically been presented in art, as idealised, hairless, mythological nudes. It may even be a reaction to the portrayal of women in modern day porn, but as I said before, men are also presented in an idealised way; they too suffer from pressure to look the same way. It is not just a female problem, so why is it presented as such.

i understand campaigning for women’s rights. I understand empowering women. However walls of vaginas I do not. The suffragettes actually wanted to present themselves as feminine and elegant to oppose the opinion that they were ‘mannish.’ These pioneers of women’s rights would not have dreamed of exposing themselves. Some of my readers may be able to recall Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party of 1979. This work was a made collaboratively by a group of women, celebrating women. As a group, they found and celebrated great women throughout history. This is similar to the work of feminist art historians like Linda Nochlin who actively search for great women artists to add to the canon.

It seems therefore that there is a divide in the way feminists want to approach art. Some, choose to ‘liberate’ women from the generally accepted rules of society by depicting female genitalia, menstruation blood and body hair. This can be said of such artists as Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin. There are others however, who have a different approach. Even as recently as Jess de Wahls Big Swining Ovaries which empowered women through history through her crafted portraits.

Recently, the internet has concerned itself with what it means to be a feminist. I personally have struggled with this in the past, wrongly believing that it was all about burning bras, not shaving, and acting in a masculine fashion. Hopefully this article proves that just as in society there are multiple ways in which we can empower women, so too are there more than one way in art. I am not saying that one approach is ‘more correct’ than the other. While the art in the exhibition was not for me, other feminist art is. For example, I am a huge fan of Shadi Ghadirian and Shirin Neshat. Just as different peoples have different styles when it comes to clothes of music, so too will they in art and in this case, feminism.

Gilbert & George @ White Cube, Bermondsey

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I currently work across the road from the White Cube on Bermondsey Street at another museum and am often interacting with visitors from the gallery. Most of these visitors come to us enthralled by the current Gilbert and George show at White Cube. However, when I explain to you now that the show is full of bombs, burkas and drugs you may be asking why these visitors always seem to be smiling.

Gilbert and George are an unassuming duo to some yet infamous to others. If the viewer unfamiliar as to what the pair looked like before they saw the exhibition, there is no doubt that they would be able to recognise them after. In over 60 works, the artists appear together in all of them.

The pair, who have been making art together since meeting at St Martin’s in 1967 reflect the environment in which they live: East London. The duo live close to Brick Lane, an area which is fast changing. The show is entitled ‘SCAPEGOATING PICTURES’ which suggests that the contents in the pictures are often aspects of life that are blamed for the wrongdoings of others. This may be true of the nitrous oxide canisters, which the pair have come across in their morning walks, perhaps to explain that it is the people taking these fashionable drugs that are the problem, not the drug itself. In an interview they have likened this to Hogarth’s Rakes Progress but with ‘new-age party drugs instead of booze.’

Similarly, we may question the inclusion of women in burkhas. Gilbert and George state that they are against religion and this is the first time that the pair has used any faith besides Christianity in their work. However, it is interesting that they have chosen to insert the veiled figures in the series given its title, suggesting that they believe these women to be free of fault. This is probably true, yet, if they are against religion, then it would make more sense that they did object to them. That said, across the images, the pair not only give Islam attention, but hurl a string of vulgar insults towards Christianity.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, nor a display full of negativity – after all – why would people constantly be leaving so smiley?! It is this honesty that I find makes the visitors so intrigued. Our world is constantly on edge. Nobody wants to offend, everything must be politically incorrect and we are forever biting our tongues in fear of upsetting someone. Yet Gilbert and George do not shy away from the truth. In fact they have put themselves in every image so you know that they are definitely conscious of the message they are giving. The pair themselves are also very comical: men in their seventies in masks or dressed as skeletons with serious faces. It shouldn’t work after all these years, where the exhibitions are seemingly very similar, but it does and I sincerely hope that they never stop.

You really have to see it to believe it!

Gilbert & George: SCAPEGOATING PICTURES for London is on display at White Cube Bermondsey until 28 September


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