Subversive Fashion @ Barbican

Subvert [verb], to undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution.

Midway through the current Subversive Fashion exhibition at Barbican Gallery I turned to my friend and said ‘this is lacking a bit of oomf isn’t it?!’ He looked at me and nodded, with a tinge of disappointment in his eyes. The notion of fashion being subversive would suggest something shocking, sexy or unusual. Unfortunately this exhibition, while incredibly lovely, was missing something. It left a hole, when we departed I was hungry, and not just for my dinner.

I think the staging of the show may be what made it feel so dull. The overly dim lighting faded out all the vitality from the clothing – the complete opposite of what you need on a Friday night exhibition trip.

This show does succeed in telling us that the need to be subversive is nothing new. It reminds us of the notion of excess in relation to vulgarity, a word that can be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes it is equated as being perverse or provocative. However, the exhibition begins with handwoven lace, something that is at once delicate and gentle.

The exhibition spans centuries from 200 year old mantuas to contemporary Prada, miu miu and Moschino. Perhaps this is too much, it doesn’t flow easily, and while a lack of cohesion is not necessarily a negative point, it should at least be a topic of conversation from gallery to gallery. However, many of the exhibitions different parts seem to be completely alien to what comes before and after them, so the whole visitor experience is a little bewildering.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this whole exhibition is just how much of contemporary fashion is subversive, and how it has been completely excluded from the display. One only has to think of Vetements and Balenciaga to know that the subversive is anything but boring. Barbican’s show was a little safe for my liking and dare I say it a little tame.

The Barbican exhibition is by no means bad in anyway, just a little boring.

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is on display at Barbican until 5 February 2017

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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