File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 22


Date: Sat, 14 Sep 1996 15:29:27 GMT
Subject: Naked Ambition 2


   The New York Times, September 15, 1996, A&E, p. 40. 
 
 
   Fashion as Art. Or Maybe Not. 
 
      Bauhaus is the historic argument for encouraging an 
      exhibition that brings together, as this one does, 
      architecture, art and fashion. The question is whether 
      such a moment can be manufactured. 
 
      What the A-list of contributors to the biennial makes 
      clear is that it might be a monster cocktail party; 
      instead of the dialogue of the shared strain of Bauhaus, 
      what could result is a lot of monologuists mouthing off 
      at one another. 
 
      "With the increasing celebrity of the artist and the 
      designer, what they really have going for both of them 
      is their celebrity. They now have this sort of 
      computerized program that allows them to communicate, 
      and the software is their celebrity. 
 
      Ms. Sischy said, "it involves electronics, language and 
      other elements, which they've chosen to symbolize 
      fashion. The texts involve all the reasons to be naked 
      or clothed -- from sex to humiliation and murder." 
 
   By Amy M. Spindler 
 
 
   When Ingrid Sischy first visited the controversial, 
   microbe-size place where fashion meets art, it was 1982, on 
   the cover of Artforum magazine, where she was the 30- 
   year-old editor. An Issey Miyake nylon polyester jacket and 
   skirt with a rattan bodice adorned an issue dedicated not 
   to fashion as art but to the question of just why fashion 
   wasn't considered art. She still hasn't heard the end of 
   it. Most people have probably forgotten that the issue 
   posed the same question about record covers, pulp-fiction 
   book jackets, newspaper photos, magazine covers, jukeboxes, 
   comics and street posters. 
 
   What stuck in the craw of art readers was that there was 
   fashion on the cover of Artforum, as if it had a right to 
   be there. Frankly, fashion, when it takes itself too 
   seriously, really bugs people. 
 
   Fourteen years later, Ms. Sischy is ready to raise those 
   hackles again as one of three artistic directors for the 
   forthcoming Biennale di Firenze exhibition, "Time and 
   Fashion," an event of the type Ms. Sischy herself might 
   deem "a big, fat Italian show." 
 
   The ambitious exhibition in Florence is the first of what 
   may be a biennial event exploring fashion in depth. This 
   one will run from Saturday to Dec. 15, with fashion 
   designer "interventions," as the press materials put it, in 
   19 museums throughout the city, including the Uffizi. The 
   exhibition will also include a huge show called "New 
   Persona/New Universe" filling the cavernous Leopolda train 
   station; pavilions, built on the terraces of Forte 
   Belvedere, designed by Arata Isozaki, featuring designer 
   and artist collaborations, and shows elsewhere dedicated to 
   the photographer Bruce Weber, Elton John's style and 
   designer Emilio Pucci. 
 
   Ms. Sischy, who is now the editor of Interview magazine and 
   a fashion and photography writer for The New Yorker, was 
   brought into the project nearly two years ago by two 
   Italian co-directors, Germano Celant, curator of 
   contemporary art at the Guggenheim Museum, and Luigi 
   Settembrini, a marketing expert who curated the fashion 
   portion of the 1994 "Italian Metamorphosis" exhibition at 
   the Guggenheim. 
 
   "It had nothing to do with being on a mission to say 
   fashion is art," Ms. Sischy said of the Artforum cover. "I 
   don't think fashion is art, but why is that definition for 
   artistic creativity so narrow that it's just a painting in 
   a frame? Especially toward the end of the 20th century, 
   after the Bauhaus and after the movies were invented, it 
   seemed so pathetic that the definition of art was still 
   this little thing about painting and sculpture, since both 
   of those forms had also turned themselves into 
   self-congratulatory, empty, deadened forms." 
 
   In fact, Bauhaus is the historic argument for encouraging 
   an exhibition that brings together, as this one does, 
   architecture, art and fashion. The question is whether such 
   a moment can be manufactured. 
 
   "Designers and artists are so multifaceted that you're not 
   likely to have a single strain developing out of the 
   conjunction," said James Gardner, art critic for National 
   Review magazine and the author of "Culture or Trash?," 
   which analyzed the state of modern art. "You don't have the 
   single strain that Bauhaus did that brought fashion and art 
   together, geometric abstraction." Instead, he said, "With 
   the increasing celebrity of the artist and the designer, 
   what they really have going for both of them is their 
   celebrity. They now have this sort of computerized program 
   that allows them to communicate, and the software is their 
   celebrity. 
 
   Which is ultimately what makes the project so perfect for 
   Ms. Sischy, since celebrity is part of the currency that 
   led Andy Warhol to create Interview. 
 
   What the A-list of contributors to the biennial makes clear 
   is that it might be a monster cocktail party; instead of 
   the dialogue of the shared strain of Bauhaus, what could 
   result is a lot of monologuists mouthing off at one 
   another. 
 
   "In the best of all possible worlds, it will have a residue 
   and open up ideas of thinking, looking and showing," Ms. 
   Sischy said. 
 
   Since the timing of the exhibition is based on the notion 
   that this is a great moment of cross-pollination between 
   artists and fashion designers, the biennial is forcing a 
   few shotgun marriages to prove that point. 
 
   Miuccia Prada will collaborate with Damien Hirst for a work 
   in one of seven pavilions; Helmut Lang with Jenny Holzer in 
   another; Gianni Versace with Roy Lichtenstein in a third. 
   The Holzer-Lang collaboration, Ms. Sischy said, "involves 
   electronics, language and other elements, which they've 
   chosen to symbolize fashion. The texts involve all the 
   reasons to be naked or clothed -- from sex to humiliation 
   and murder." 
 
   The exhibition, she added, can hardly be accused of forcing 
   a debate. "Art and fashion is something we'd never address 
   if it weren't so vibrant right now," she said. 
 
   Not only is this a particularly fertile time for 
   contemporary artists to comment on fashion, criticize it 
   and use it to make statements about gender; it is also a 
   moment when fashion designers are increasingly borrowing 
   movements from art. 
 
   "It started in a big way, in a conscious way, with Cindy 
   Sherman," Ms. Sischy said. "In order for her to make her 
   point about women and stereotypes, she was heavily styling 
   herself with fashion imagery. Since then, it's really been 
   heating up." 
 
   Recent work of Ms. Prada, Jil Sander, Rei Kawakubo, Mr. 
   Lang, Mr. Versace and Karl Lagerfeld has been criticized 
   for being "ugly"; rather, what they've done is appropriate 
   art's questioning of what is beautiful. 
 
   "With these fashion designers, there has been the 
   equivalent of the breakthrough visually, as there was when 
   artists broke through the idea of the picturesque," Ms. 
   Sischy said. "The most creative and the most attuned 
   designers are revolutionizing what a palette means, what a 
   line means, a shape. For fashion, it's the equivalent 
   creativity of Cubism." 
 
   Ms. Sischy's enthusiasm, and her intellectual ability to 
   make meaning out of molehills, has seduced a heady group. 
   After all, Ms. Sischy runs a magazine so intimate with its 
   subjects that the other day Julian Schnabel replaced a Ross 
   Bleckner work on her office wall with one of his own. 
   Competitive artists, or designers, would not ignore her 
   call. 
 
   In 19 of the most important Florence museums, designers 
   like Christian Lacroix, Donna Karan and John Galliano will 
   react to the environments, with installations overseen by 
   the architect Gae Aulenti. "Most of them have nothing 
   contemporary, and by contemporary I mean something from the 
   last 100 years." Ms. Sischy said. 
 
   The "New Persona/New Universe" exhibition, designed by 
   Denis Santachiara, gives established artists like David 
   Bowie, Cindy Sherman and the Chapman brothers rooms to 
   address issues of gender. Mr. Bowie's work, for example, is 
   an installation involving magic and art, "an ambitious 
   project that plays with the idea of illusion, which I like 
   since fashion is about so much smoke and mirrors," Ms. 
   Sischy said. Designers, meanwhile, like Calvin Klein, 
   Giorgio Armani, Mr. Lagerfeld and Tom Ford of Gucci will 
   make installations illustrating their "designer universe." 
 
   An exhibit inside Forte Belvedere will commemorate other 
   moments when fashion and art collided: the fabrics of Sonia 
   Delaunay, the fashion prototypes of the Russian 
   Constructivists Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, 
   the Dada and Surrealistic collaborations of Salvador Dali 
   and Elsa Schiaparelli, Man Ray and Vogue magazine. There 
   will be clothes or jewelry designed by Lucio Fontana, 
   Giuseppe Capogrossi and Getulio Alviani, and designs by Mr. 
   Warhol, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Ellsworth 
   Kelly. 
 
   What Ms. Sischy hopes is that designers may be given 
   something artists enjoy: time for an audience to pause and 
   really consider their work. 
 
   "What I kept noticing in my years of watching fashion 
   intensely is it didn't really have too many situations -- 
   certainly no system at all -- in which people could step 
   back and really look at it and think about it," Ms. Sischy 
   said. "Usually, the level of discourse about it is very low 
   and sheep-like." And some of fashion's best moments happen 
   far from the runway. "At the opening of the Andy Warhol 
   Museum, the most fabulous moment was when these dames 
   emerged in their Halston-designed dresses when Andy had 
   done the fabric," Ms. Sischy said. 
 
   Still, she stressed: "We were very careful that this is not 
   an exhibition about what happened. This is about what's 
   happening. And if fashion and contemporary art aren't about 
   what's happening, then I don't know what they're supposed 
   to be about." 
 
   [Five photos] Ingrid Sischy is an artistic director of the 
   exhibition in Florence. 
 
   A photo of Elton John, taken after a world tour in 1982, 
   will be in "Elton John Metamorphosis" at the Uffizi. 
 
   Arata Isozaki's sketch for pavilions he designed for the 
   exhibition of fashion and art in Florence, top; an untitled 
   work by Cindy Sherman at the Leopolda train station, left, 
   and a 1966 silk outfit by Emilio Pucci at the Pitti Palace. 
 
   [End] 
 
   To see photos: 
 
      http://pwp.usa.pipeline.com/~jya/naked.jpg  (5 pix) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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