Exposing meaning in fashion through presentation at Brooklyn Anchorage, New York (1999)

Review of exhibition including work by Vivienne Westwood, Maison Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Susan Cianciolo and Hussein Chalayan.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - design | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 5(4), page 82 in 1999.

Exposing meaning in fashion through presentation at Brooklyn Anchorage

While the art and fashion interplay has been a recurring interest internationally, the exhibition Exposing meaning in fashion through presentation consisted of "fashion centered" installation, to "illuminate the depths of creativity in fashion design." Participants in the exhibition included Vivienne Westwood, Maison Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Susan Cianciolo and Hussein Chalayan. Also included were a curated video and sound installation, as well as a limited edition publication consisting of fashion images edited by Patrick Li. The show was organized by Creative Time and conceived with Andrea Rosen Agency for Exceptional Projects.

No stranger to controversy, Vivienne Westwood presented an eight-figure installation staging a narrative depicting issues of race, gender, class, age and clothes. Entitled The future of an illusion (1999), the freezed-framed interaction of the mannequins encouraged a hunt for visual clues and cues. "WATCH THIS SPACE" in large black typography provides the backdrop, and Westwood offered a peculiar soap-opera text—below the stage—for viewers to consider. To the right, a boy wearing a sweatshirt with "Gap between the Ears" written on it holds a disposable camera across from a topless woman in jeans. To the left, a smiling blonde-haired female mannequin holds a book entitled Rape and How to Enjoy It, and stands next to a baby resting in a crib amidst stuffed animals. In her narrative, Westwood concludes, "What about taste? What chance does the baby have?"

Meanwhile other presenters offered less sensational material. Maison Martin Margiela displayed 18 previous designs—dipped and treated with mold, bacteria, or yeast—set parallel on headless mannequins. Spotlighted in the cavernous space at the Anchorage, the installation recalled a uniquely sited museum-like archeological display. One of the effects of the piece was to raise questions about the choices societies make when preserving and valuing visual culture.

Viktor & Rolf presented video in a giant birdcage installation with sheets of their press clippings dispersed. They "are known for their pattern of behavior analogous to birds of paradise." A film and video installation called Unhinged (1999), curated by Victoria Bartlett and Richard Pandiscio, showed the different uses and meanings of fashion—"a sampling intended to demonstrate what happens when fashion, art and film collide."

For some art-centered folk, the installation might look like "fashion trying to become art", or at the very least, employing fine art structures— and the "please don’t touch" aspect of some works reinforced the preciousness of the pieces. Alternatively, the installations appeared to take fashion display a step further— presenting lesser-known sensibilities of fashion designers for some— and showed an exciting selection of installation which included a variety of forms and devices employed by these visual artists.

Overall, the show was impressive. Just when it seemed all of the questions about "what is art?"—or rather visual art—had been addressed in the 20th century, Creative Time snuck in a pre-Millenium twist.