Exhibitions dedicated to grand couturiers are currently taking the art world by storm. With “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” about to open in New York, museums and galleries around the world continue to celebrate the oeuvres of distinguished designers – join us for an overview of the latest art-meets-fashion shows
“My grandmother was much more an artist than a designer”, or so Elsa Schiaparelli’s granddaughter, Marisa Berenson, states in a V Magazine feature to mark the upcoming exhibition Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. According to her, “Schiap” and her immediate competitor Coco Chanel were worlds apart. “Coco Chanel was a dressmaker and jealous of her.”
Set to open on May 10th, 2012, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition follows in the footsteps of another example of fashion-goes-art: Last year, Alexander McQueen’s retrospective Savage Beauty attracted an astonishing 661,509 visitors, making it one of the most successful shows in the museum’s long history and catapulting McQueen into a realm normally reserved for the likes of Pablo Picasso or Vincent van Gogh. The curators expect Schiaparelli and Prada’s work to attract a similar level of attention. “Given the role Surrealism and other art movements play in the designs of both Schiaparelli and Prada, it seems only fitting that their inventive creations be explored here at the Met”, adds the museum’s director, Thomas P. Campbell.
And while chief designer and proprietress Miuccia Prada blankly refuses to call her work “art”, Schiaparelli clearly considered her profession an artistic discipline and would have thought it only natural to find her designs displayed at the Met. In her collaborations with name surrealists, art and fashion became equal partners: While Jean Cocteau sketched stitching patterns for Schiaparelli and commissioned her to create costumes for film and theatre, her work with Salvador Dali yielded several daring art/fashion hybrids like her famous high heel-shaped hats.
This move towards more and more fashion-based exhibitions has fired up a lively discourse as to whether fashion should be considered art. Back in the days, Coco Chanel once called Elsa Schiaparelli an “Italian artist who also makes clothes”, yet took a more modest approach when it came to her own creations, recently honoured in a grand exhibition at the National Art Museum of China. “A dress is neither a tragedy nor a painting: It is a delightful and ephemeral creation, not an immortal work of art”, according to a quote immortalised in Paul Morand’s The Allure of Chanel (2009).
While some critics say that fashion’s dedication to function inarguably turns it into a craft, others argue that the sheer transience of trends makes it difficult to consider sartorial expression a bona fide art form. Naturally, fashion can take a myriad of different styles and shapes: from the simple slashes of an amateur via slick, commercial cuts all the way to the masters of their metier who stand out from the crowd with innovative concepts, meaning and originality. When the curators of the Groninger Museum came across Iris van Herpen, they simply could not believe that no other name venue had snapped up the works of the 27-year-old Dutch designer, a talent often hailed as “the next McQueen”. Their exhibition gives pride of place to an artiste who has claimed her own niche in the interstices between fashion and art. Calling her output “clothing” simply wouldn’t do justice to these creations – “wearable sculptures” might be closer to the mark.
Meanwhile, we also bear witness to a veritable sea change in terms of staging and presentation. More and more exhibitions are designed as installations or overall works of art. Jean Paul Gaultier, for example, decided to collaborate with the Montreal theatre ensemble Ubu Compagnie de Création who created bespoke animated display dummies for his solo exhibition (currently on show at the De Young Museum in San Francisco).
Rei Kawakubo, on the other hand – the designer behind Japan’s foremost avant-garde label Comme des Garçons – once again changed the rules by not showing a retrospective at Les Docks de Paris. Instead, her White Drama installation highlights the magical, absurd and truly weird creations of her current Spring/Summer collection. After all, Kawakubo’s imaginative and elaborately embellished works are the reasons why fans like to call her an artist, although the couturier herself prefers to emphasise the underlying functionality of her designs.
Below you will find a selection of current fashion-related exhibitions:
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations from May 10th until August 19th at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs until September 16th at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective shows haute couture from the early days of Dior up to the master’s final collection in 2002 until July 8th at the Denver Art Museum.
Iris van Herpen until September 23rd at the Groninger Museum.
Cristobal Balenciaga – Collector of Fashion takes a closer look at Balenciaga’s collection of historic fashion and contrasts these examples with the couturier’s own creations until October 7th at Les Docks de Paris.
The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk until August 19th at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The multimedia exhibition brings Gaultier’s avant-garde creations to life via animated display dummies as well as sketches, photographs and select videos.
Yohji Yamamoto from July 4th until October 13th at the Design Museum Holon in Israel.
Comme des Garcons: White Drama exhibits the highlights of Comme des Garçons’ Spring/Summer 2012 collection under glass domes until October 7th at Les Docks de Paris.
Christian Louboutin until July 9th at the London Design Museum.
An American Legacy will display the works of Norman Norell, Bill Blass, Stephen Sprouse and Halston from May 4th until January 27th, 2012, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Worth/Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture is an online exhibit by the Museum of the City of New York. The show’s high-resolution images allow online visitors to enjoy details usually not accessible or visible in a regular exhibition context.
Jean Paul Gaultier photos: courtesy of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Alexander McQueen photos: courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Iris van Herpen: courtesy of Groninger Museum
Comme des Garçons photos: courtesy of Le musée GALLIERA de Paris