Dress to Impress | Apollo Review


In 1986 or thereabouts, Louise Bourgeois noted that it is “very, very difficult to get rid of / all the clothes I don’t use this year / what do they represent = / failures, abandoned rejects”. The artist had always struggled to part with clothes, seeing her clothes as anchors – often painful – to a past she couldn’t help but “hold on to.” […] tight’. A decade later, at the age of 83, Bourgeois finally managed to reduce the contents of his wardrobe, transferring many of his clothes to his Brooklyn workshop where they formed the raw material for several sculptures dealing with the thorny difficulties of memory and family. including Cell (Clothing) (1996) and Pink days and blue days (1997). She maintained a much more modest set of rails in her own apartment. At her death, they were still adorned with monkey fur coats, white shirts and a number of clothes, including a tufted black tuxedo, by Austrian designer Helmut Lang, with whom she befriended in at the same time that she embarked on her work on fabrics in the 1990s.

Melvin Edwards with his sculpture Double circles (1970). Photo: Courtesy of the artist / Alexander Gray Associates, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

Why do we care what artists wear? What about the dress decisions they make, or the clothes they owned, that constrain us? In recent years, this issue has become more urgent. Just think of the V&A sold-out exhibit devoted to the artful and colorful self-shaping of Frida Kahlo, or the accolades – and statements of style icon status – attached to frequently circulated images of Frida Kahlo’s blouses. Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffe’s austere cut, Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dot dresses or David Hockney’s elegant ties. Some of these items have become full merchants. When Hepworth was the subject of a Tate retrospective in 2015, Margaret Howell designed a range of chic blouses and duffel bags that could be purchased alongside.

However, as fashion critic Charlie Porter warns in his captivating book What the artists wear, focusing only on the pleasures of such outfits is to flatten what the wearers were doing. Instead, we should ask ourselves different and deeper questions: “If we were to look back at the clothes that artists have worn over the past decades, what could we learn about the conditions under which they performed their work? ? What can an artist’s wardrobe say about his bravery and challenge, or even his adherence to the culture and ideology of his society?

The Squash (2018), Anthea Hamilton, commissioned by Tate Britain.

Squash (2018), Anthea Hamilton, commissioned by Tate Britain. Photo: LOEWE

Porter has spent more than two decades writing about fashion for publications such as the Financial Time, the Guardian, and the New York Times. He is also a curator and was a juror for the Turner Prize in 2019. Here he explores the complex relationship between clothing and power: teasing – through pot biographies, contemporary interviews and digressions. on topics ranging from sewing to tracksuits. – an understanding of fashion and art that goes far beyond the simple expressive. Instead, the clothing choices made by a range of artists over the past century provide an intimate glimpse into their professional lives and self-presentation strategies.

The book is organized, a la John Berger, around more than 300 photos, with Porter acting as a guide to the gallery as he invites us to study particular images and explains the significance of Jean-Michel’s discreet Comme des Garçons coats. Basquiat or Andy Warhol’s love for mass-produced denim. Basquiat, Porter observes, developed a dress language that reflected his art – “oversized, quirky, chaos under control” – and found a visual kinship in the unusual shapes and playful silhouettes of Rei Kawakubo. Warhol, on the other hand, embraced “community” in all things – so of course he saw possibilities in a practical, mundane pair of jeans.

Jean-Michel Basquiat model during a Comme des Garçons fashion show.

Jean-Michel Basquiat model during a Comme des Garçons fashion show. Photo: Comme des Garçons

As the book progresses, it deepens the two-way traffic between art and clothing, with detours through fangs and paint-splattered aprons, elaborate outfits used by performance artists such as Lynn Hershman. Leeson and Anthea Hamilton (whose fascinating costumes for the performance of the Tate play Squash [2018], worn by 14 different artists, were created in collaboration with the Spanish luxury brand Loewe), and the intricate textile work of artists such as Senga Nengudi, Richard Tuttle and Andrea Zittel. The book is at its best when it browses the wardrobes and works of these artists at length, hanging out in the studio of painter Nicole Eisenman or presenting discussions with video and performance artist Martine Syms about her interest in them. smuggled and counterfeit designer clothes.

At other times, this curvy approach leaves the reader begging for more. The analysis of, say, the costume’s messages on male power would benefit from being more in-depth than can be found in the few few lines here. However, the cumulative strength of Porter’s book comes from his obvious taste for the vitality and varied possibilities of clothing, and his understanding of the tightly woven – and often strained – links between fashion, art, and social norms. As in life, clothing finally appears in these pages as so many things: language, tool, uniform, disguise, material, memory, practical necessity, identity marker, source of both assimilation and transformation. Artists, like the rest of us, have to dress every day. Whether they choose dirty t-shirts or Helmut Lang tufted tuxedo coats, Porter convincingly explains why we need to be careful.

What the artists wear by Charlie Porter is published by penguin.

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