Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fashion & Museums

“Sous l’empire des crinolines ou la mode du Second Empire”, Musée Galliera, Spring 2009

Museums establish a santifying context, legitimizing whatever is within them. The museum thus transforms fashion into art, something not worn but adored. Critics complain that fashion exhibitions function as entertainment rather than education. Originally with the World's Fair and early art museums, the intention was to educate the masses. Museums also function to archive and stockpile cultural artefacts. Fashion collecting museums did not emerge until the 20th century.

The Museum of Costume Art, New York was founded by costume designer Aline Bernstein and Irene Lewisohn. In 1937 they merged with the Met and became its Costume Institute. Today, its collection contains more than 80,000 costumes and accessories with two separate shows each year, one with a spring gala.

The Victoria & Albert Museum is the world's largest collection of decorative objects with a smaller collection of 30,000 dreasses and nearly 40,000 textiles.

Musée Galliera, the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a division of the Louvre founded in 1905 that has a department for fashion and textiles. Also in Paris is Le Musée Gallieria was created in 1977. The large collection of over 70,000 items dates back to the eighteenth century including historic dresses worn by Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon’s wife Josephine and modern day masterpieces by such noted designers as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Jean-Paul Gautier. The museum also has collections dedicated to undergarments, lace, accessories, and dolls.

•The Mode Museum began in 2000, archiving both finished work and the design process such as patterns. The pioneers who put Flanders on the map in the eighties are the primary archive focus: Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs and Dirk Van Saene. The collection also includes the younger generation of designers such as Lieve Van Gorp, Raf Simons, Véronique Branquinho, Jurgi Persoons, Patrick Van Ommeslaeghe, A.F. Vandevorst, Stephan Schneider, Bernhard Willhelm, Wim Neels and Angelo Figus.

Mode Museum, Permanent Collection of patterns, Antwerp, Belgium

Each year, the Fashion Museum of Antwerp, or MoMu, presents the MoMu Award to an MA student at the fashion department of the Royal Academy in Antwerp. AlexandraVerscheuren's MEDIUM was the 2009 winner.

Alexandra Verscheuren, 2009 recipient of the MoMu Award

In "Museums as Fashion Medium," Fiona Anderson explains that the 1990’s saw a general increase in fashion studies, for schools and museums. Fashion was used to attract visitors to museums. By 1997, The Face called fashion an “entertainment medium." Fashion also gained a higher profile by being presented in the museum and provides object based, primary research materials. The Victoria & Albert Museum established itself in fashion with the 1971 Cecil Beaton show “Fashion: An Anthology.”

Schiaparelli, "Fashion: An Anthology"

Balenciaga and Bill Gibb, "Fashion: An Anthology"

V&A began including the runway in the museum with “Fashion in Motion,” in 1999, breaking the notion of museum clothing not being worn and instead allowing clothing to be observed as it moves with the body.

“Fashion in Motion,” Central Saint Martins Grads, 2008

Judith Clark is a UK gallery dedicated to fashion. Clark expressed "If fashion is a living phenomenon…then a museum of fashion is a cemetery of dead clothes.”

Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro at Judith Clark, Jan-Feb 2008

Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro at Judith Clark, Jan-Feb 2008

Hussein Chalayan presented a gallery film short by Marcus Tomlinson of his F 1999 collection timed with the night of the runway show, self promotion or art?

A larger controversy posed by critics is that not only are fashion exhibitions like entertainment but they advertise fashion companies. But contemporary art exhibitions do the same, advancing the value of the work of living artists. So the criticism is only valid if aimed at art as well and the museum as billboard. At the Met, the press also critiques the star studded galas and soft-surface level curating that is set to please, as in the Chanel and Model as Muse exhibitions.

Critiqued as a commercial, Chanel Exhibition, The Met, 2005

Model as Muse, The Met, 2009

Another type of fashion exhibition was held st the Smithsonian in 1998. Ellen Todd, explains in “Visual Design and Exhibition Politics in the Smithsonian’s ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place.’” The exhibition was curated by Peter Leibhold and Harry Rubenstein. It gave historical framing to the contemporary issue of sweatshops, intensified by the 1997 El Monte scandal. Because only two years before in 1995 the Smithsonian showed the nose of plane used in bombing Hiroshima, with the sweatshop exhibition the Smithsonian was attacked again for showcasing scandal. The sweatshop exhibition was also criticized for trying to gain an audience and create sympathy yet it involved financial support from the fashion industry.

The Smithsonian exhibition presented a sweatshop that resembled the one busted in El Monte.

Since the Smithsonian, it is American Apparel that has lobbied to legalize immigrants in sweatshops with a strong opposition that immigrants should be returned to their native country.

In Rome, a former altar of peace the "Ara Pacis" was converted into a museum in 2007. For the first exhibition, the curators Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfroda chose to present a survey of the designs of Valentino, timed to the end of his own production. The exhibition, held at an ancient altar, raised the question of beauty worship in many of the reviews. This style of presentation was designed to beg the question of museums as altars to man.

In 2009-10, the exhibition The Art of Fashion: Installing Allusions, explores the boundaries between fashion and art. "Today’s fashion designers are entering the area of fine art and in their turn influence the art world. New and existing works by twenty-five international designers and artists provide a confrontational visual experience. ... Fashion designers present their work with installations, performances and sculptural designs. Like art, today’s fashion is collected by museums and private individuals. Conversely in recent years artists have been exploring the visual world of fashion. The fixed boundaries between fashion and art have become blurred. For the first time The Art of Fashion combines the two disciplines in a confrontational visual spectacle.

"Starting from the principles of fashion, visitors will automatically find themselves in different areas. Patterns and shapes and clothes become sculptures, a fashion show is transformed into a performance and the imaginary world that fashion evokes is the same as we see in art. The fantasy world of Walter Van Beirendonck lies close to the Sound Suits by Nick Cave; the sculptural jewellery by Naomi Filmer and the objects by Christophe Coppens have the same tactile unsettling shapes as the sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, which in turn have strong thematic similarities to Martin Margiela’s work."

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