Exhibition receptions are generally busy, colorful affairs, when the gallery fills up with people all chattering, questioning, admiring and exploring the art on display. It’s a time when individuals from many different walks of life and from diverse backgrounds end up all in the same room, and to an extent sharing the same experience. There is always something exciting and marvelous about such a combination, and receptions can be exhilarating events. One of the the factors which contributes to the unique atmosphere is the variety in clothing which includes smart, casual, and every shade in between as understated elegance meets the striking or the daring.
Artists very often wonder or ask about what they should wear to their own reception – after all, it is an important event in an artistic career and we all like to look nice. Of course the truth is that the main thing is to wear what you enjoy wearing, what makes you feel confident and comfortable, but even when we know that, it can still take time to decide on the right thing. Occasionally artists are embarrassed about this preoccupation and wonder if it is a foolish thing to spend any time on. The answer is no. It’s not silly. Of course, there’s no need to spend hours thinking about it (or indeed shopping, unless you particularly enjoy doing so), but the fact that the thought crosses your mind is nothing to be embarrassed about – that you take your appearance and the impression you make seriously is a positive thing. Besides, it’s your night – do everything you can to make sure you enjoy it!
In that spirit, this post contains some reminders of how easily fashion and art relate to one another, and some examples of where the two are consciously combined.
Art museums often intentionally incorporate fashion into their exhibitions, choosing the most typical or appropriate materials and clothes to add to the picture built up in the rooms – with the result that sometimes the clothes on display become one of the most memorable pieces in the exhibit. The fabulous exhibition a few years ago in London’s Royal Academy ‘China: The Three Emperors’ contained a wealth of artwork, scrolls, weaponry and other material which proved stunning in itself and illuminating in terms of the overall theme. Yet one of the things that sticks in my mind still is the memory of turning round to discover the sumptuous, beautiful ceremonial robes that formed part of the display. I also recall an exhibition from a few years back at the Met, which focused on the fashions of eighteenth century France. The clothes themselves were both remarkable and lovely (though one often wondered how people wearing them managed to move around) and they were used to show an interesting side of the period in a particularly engaging manner. There’s an exhibition on at the moment at the International Center of Photography that discusses precisely the themes of dress, dress codes, and what they say about the wearer and the society they are part of .
There are two things I noted from these (and other) exhibitions. The first is simply the great impact that dress can make, akin to the way in which a work of art can take you aback and metaphorically sweep you off your feet. I don’t mean that ordinary clothes are likely to have quite the same shock value, but the point is that something with that kind of potential deserves to be taken at least partly seriously. The second thing was the power of fashion to illustrate to add to a wider theme or point being made. A single outfit contains a wealth of information about the society it was worn in, the person who wore it, and connect us instantly to what we already know about the period and any memories we have concerning it. Much like a work of art, it really is worth a thousand words.
The world of fashion itself is often close to the art world. There are of course those such as the late artist Richard Merkin who use a particular fashion style to create a well known and recognizable persona, but it works the other way around too. The figures of the fashion world are, often and increasingly, connected to the art world. Miuccia Prada has been commissioning contemporary art since 1993, through the Prada Foundation, and she is planning to open a museum in Milan to house her personal collection of over 500 works. Other fashion designers have also possessed impressive collections, including Yves Saint Laurent and Kenzo Takada. Louis Vuitton have even opened a gallery on the seventh floor of their Paris emporium. It’s almost unexpected for a fashion related company or individual not to have an interest in or connection to art.
There isn’t really a moral to this story, except to reassure all those artists who contact us or are thinking of contacting us in concern about their outfits that it is not a silly question and that it’s ok to give time and thought it it. Also, perhaps, we could ask if there is something to be gained from the flourishing connection between art and fashion? An insight into what is striking, what makes something noticeable? If you have any thoughts, please do share them in the comments!