Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 14 - 2018


A Fashion Exhibit Without Fashion

 

BY JENNIFER AYRES


 

Abstract:

In this review, I critically examine the fashion and art exhibition “fashion after Fashion,” April 7–Aug 27, 2017 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, curated by Hazel Clark and Ilari Laamanen. The exhibition design was commissioned work by six interdisciplinary artists/designers who incorporated a mix of sculpture, performance, and audiovisual material into their installations. The different installations, taken together and experienced together, acted back and upon each other in interesting ways in the exhibition, which was a strength of the curators’ method; the use of commissions exclusively acted as a kind of artistic method in itself. The first and most notable thing about the exhibit was that there were no clothes on mannequins. While the exhibition’s premise was on fashion, the intentional absence of clothing was a risky strategy the curators pursued to intervene in how viewers think about fashion. The installations were purposely amorphous and abstract as well to inspire a broader consideration of what fashion can be and what bodies can do. Though the relationship between fashion and the body has been a constant topic in fashion scholarship, this exhibition offered a new perspective through commissioning and showcasing the category-defying work of recent fashion and art school graduates and performance artists. 

 

Keywords:

  • creative process

  • fashion
  • art
  • design
  • craft
  • exhibition review
  • modern art
 
NEW copy.jpg
 

 

What would a fashion exhibition look like when all the pieces are new, commissioned installations? And what would a fashion exhibition look like when there are no historical gowns, suits, or elaborate accessories, or any other garments on display on mannequins? Can you have a fashion exhibit without clothing? 

 
 

Whatever the answer, one walked out of the “fashion After Fashion” exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, curated by Hazel Clark and Ilari Laamanen, April 27–August 6, 2017, with a much different understanding of what fashion can be and of the relationship between art, fashion, and design.

 
Fashion Studies - Background Colours for Website7.jpg
 
 

And who better qualified to trouble any easy distinction between art and fashion than Dr. Hazel Clark, curator of the exhibit and Professor of Design Studies and Fashion Studies and Research Chair of Fashion at Parsons School of Design at The New School and co-curator Ilari Laamanen, Project Manager at the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York? Their backgrounds also prompt the question: what does a fashion exhibition look like when guest-curated by fashion scholars, along with entirely commissioned installations?

           On July 20, 2017, Clark and Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic at The New York Times, hosted an evening discussion at the Museum of Arts and Design to talk about the exhibit and how it relates to broader ideas in fashion. Friedman and Clark discussed art and fashion’s historical entanglements and then went over some central tensions in fashion that have yet to be resolved. Some of the major questions raised during the discussion are perennial questions about shifting disciplinary boundaries, such as: is fashion art; does fashion belong in a museum; and what are the differences between costume design, dress, and fashion? Their conversation also identified other tensions between fashion and politics, including:

  • In what sense is fashion democratic?
  • If planned obsolescence is built into fashion, how can we have sustainability?
  • Can we reverse-engineer fashion’s waste and obsolescence?
  • How is social media changing fashion? Is social media affecting fashion’s temporal rhythms? Is social media speeding up a runaway train?
  • What do we do about the problem of fast fashion?

The Process


 

In the summer of 2016, Clark and Laamanen started selecting artists who they knew had interesting, collaborative, and participatory approaches to design, fashion, performance, and art. The exhibition was in the works for more than two years. With support from the Finnish Cultural Institute, this exhibition showcased emerging designers from Finland, Denmark, Norway, and the United States. Three designers in the group are based in New York. In late fall 2016, each artist made time to visit the Museum of Arts and Design to scope out the layout and feel of the exhibition space before creating their work. As a reviewer, I attended the exhibition talk between Clark and Friedman, viewed the exhibition once by myself, and on a separate date interviewed the curators while they led me around the exhibition.

 
 

For Clark and Laamanen, contracting artists to design and create for the space folded them into the same collaborative process that they used the exhibition to highlight: fashion’s unpredictable and experimental possibilities.

 
FFI.jpg