Fashioning Art

By Young, Cynthia | Afterimage, May-June 1997 | Go to article overview

Fashioning Art


Young, Cynthia, Afterimage


The burgeoning crossover between the worlds of fashion and art is increasingly apparent - contemporary work is imbued with concerns about gender identity, fashion photography is entering into the commercial galleries and, most recently, the fashion business is a growing source of economic aid for the arts. In the past six months, there have been three major exhibitions at New York City's Guggenheim Museum alone, as well as other international events that interweave fashion and art.

The most publicized event was the inaugural exhibition of the Hugo Boss Prize finalists last October. Hugo Boss is a German men's fashion company that has recently formed a five-year partnership with the Guggenheim, a deal that includes a gallery in their SoHo branch with the Boss name. The Hugo Boss award, open to artists of all ages and nationalities working in any medium, granted $50,000 to the winner for "a significant body of work that imparts a fresh spirit of creativity and expression." The short-list nominees were Laurie Anderson, Janine Antoni, Matthew Barney, Stan Douglas, Cai Guo Qiang and Yasumasa Morimura. As in London, home of the prestigious Turner prize on which the Hugo Boss seems to be, in part, modeled, the time lapse between the opening of the exhibition and the announcement of the winner fostered a certain amount of public gossip about who would be selected. However, unlike the Turner prize, there was relatively little discussion of the outcome (in the U.K. a public bet is opened), and there was even, for a time, discrepancy as to who actually did win. The winner was Matthew Barney. The lack of media attention could be attributed to the fact that it was the first award of its kind, but the significant prize money and national exposure will no doubt lend the prize the prestige that it obviously desires, though not necessarily deserves.

The second event opened in mid-February and was titled "Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography." The title cross-references Gertrude Stein's famous dictum and the name of Marcel Duchamp's feminine alter-ego, Rrose Selavy, which when pronounced in French sounds like, "Eros, it's the life." The criteria of the work in the show, as quoted in the catalog introduction by curator Jennifer Blessing, is "art that takes as its subject the body and its covering." This covering includes make-up, body and facial hair, tattoos and, of course, clothing. Beginning with artists working in Europe in the '20s and '30s such as Duchamp, Man Ray (who also posed as a woman) and Claude Cahoun (whose work has recently been rediscovered), and leading through contemporary artists, such as Lyle Ashton Harris and Catherine Opie, the exhibit examines the photographic production of transgendered dress. As Blessing continues, "This exhibition examines the manner in which photography's strong aura of realism and objectivity promotes a fantasy of total gender transformation, or, conversely, allows the articulation of incongruity between the posing body and its assumed costume." Implied is the cooperation between photography and "dress" that stretches from projected fantasy to opposition of traditionally gendered stereotypes. This interaction could even lead to a comparison of the nude in painting to fashion in photography. (The CCA gallery in Glasgow, Scotland also recently mounted an exhibition, "Inbetweener," which was concerned with gender transformations and dress that included many of the same contemporary artists. …

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