Friday, 2 September 2011

The Finishing Touch, Women’s accessories 1830-1940.

Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool.
27 May to 11 December 2011

The Lady Lever Art Gallery was built in 1922 by the philanthropist and factory owner William Hesketh Lever, set in a purpose built model village Port Sunlight for all his factory workers, he believed that ‘art can be to everyone an inspiration.’ It was built in dedication to his wife and the gallery contains all his own personal collection of art work, so makes for an authentic, intimate experience to a fore gone decadent lifestyle which the exhibition also aims to display.
            The Finishing Touch exhibition contains over sixty accessories from the National Museums Liverpool’s collection where some have never been on display before, set in three side rooms which lead off from one another in chronological date order. They are all brightly lit by overhead lights and individual spot lights inside the glass containers, illuminating the accessories as pieces of work of art to be adored and looked upon.
            Each room has fashion illustrations drawn upon the boards on the walls of ladies wearing the fashion of the time, this visual approach leads to visitors being able to appreciate the accessories in the context of which they would have been worn and helps to visualise a background to the accessories. It also educates the visitor of fashion of the time without being seen as forced, as you progress through the three rooms you can see a visual representative of how the fashion has changed.
            Each room has a bench to allow the visitor to relax and fully consider each accessory, which ties in with the rest of the gallery space atmosphere of being welcoming. A guide booklet is also available in each room, which gives examples of the fashion from the time period in which each room sits. It contains comical imagery from ‘Punch’ magazine which makes fun out of changes in fashion of the time, examples of fashion plates, illustrations from la mode illustrée and Vogue. The booklet contains no text so allows the viewer to form their own judgements and make back stories to the accessories, thus enabling a creative free flowing atmosphere. I think it is a way to successfully educate the visitor without giving numerous text examples which can seem overwhelming and not a leisurely enjoyment in which a gallery should aim to be.
            The signage by the glass cabinets containing the accessories is minimal, it is on a white board and contains the key facts that are needed to know such as, what it is, materials used, date produced and who owned the item. The signage is clear and concise and is easily recognisable at a glance so doesn’t take the attention away from each individual item. 
            Some of my favourite items from the exhibition include an 1859 ‘Pork Pie’ hat which has a round, brown base, large brown feather from the side and elastic straps to keep it in position. It was considered to be shocking and only worn by ‘fast young ladies’ at the time.
There was a beautiful dark brown beaver fur bag with matching muff from 1880-90, which evoked a feeling of unadulterated glamour and excess which I could visualise on a lady travelling on a night train with an explicated lover.

It wasn’t until the mid nineteenth century that shoes were shaped for left and right feet until then women wore shoes that were seen to give them small, delicate features. My favourite pair of shoes from the exhibition is a pair of Russell and Bromley wedged suede shows from 1939, they are brightly coloured with royal blue and emerald green. Radiating wealth, glamour and the excess of the 1930’s upper class lifestyle. They are exciting to look at and at the time would have been quite a daring shoe, which I feel is still wearable and desired today.

In the early nineteenth century to 1940 fans were the fashionable accessory for stylish, decadent women and are suitably conveyed in the third exhibition room.  They were seen as dualistic, as can be an extravagant extension of a dress but also used as an emotive device used for flirting by a means of communication.

In the final room of the exhibition it takes on a more interactive element with hats supplied by ‘Barstons Village hat hire’ available to try on from the time period of 1830 to 1940. This discredits the usual space of an exhibition of being one to look but not touch, it becomes more personal and the atmosphere is informal with people chatting about the hats and trying them on. A comments box was positioned by the exit of the exhibition as visitors were invited to give their own critique and leave messages about what they enjoyed, this enables the curator to become more personal with the public and dispel the notion of the hierarchy prevalent in gallery spaces.
The exhibition was extremely specialised in that it only showed the accessories of high class ladies and none of the working class or men between the periods of 1830 to 1940. It did however show the accessories in the best light and enabled the visitor to pursue them at their will and make their own judgments on them. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition as when I was progressing through each room I could see a clear transgression between time periods and was able to appreciate the glamour and excess that the ladies who wore the accessories would have enjoyed.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Dare to Wear : Glass Dresses by Diana Dias-Leảo

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Until September 2011.

Diana Dias-Leảo delicately constructed but tough modernistic designs come to life in the ‘Craft and Design Gallery, how things are styled, made and used,’ in the Walker Art Gallery.

The exhibition is in fitting with its surroundings and is set in-between a labyrinth style direction showing a continuous evolution of mans usage of craft designed objects. It has a comical approach which is juxtaposed with the austere, grand building as in-between the pottery and art deco plates is a mobile phone which makes light of what is constituted as art. As when the objects displayed were originally produced they were not seen as art or worthy to be studied, only in retrospect objects become idealised, the mobile phone connotes the futures over analysis of common objects.

Positioned in the middle of the labyrinth are two glass boxes containing Diana Dias-Leảo designs, the way they are exhibited is too show off their beauty and not in an hyperbolic manner to be studied and their significance be over analysed. This is represented by the lack of signage, with only one white label at the base of each glass container stating the number of each garment, name and year they were created. This allows the spectator to not be influenced in their views and be able to form their own judgement on the designs. This is in-fitting with the rest of the exhibition space of being a place of contemplation of the meaning of objects and not an instruction based dialogue between the spectator and the objects explained meaning.

There is an audio-visual accompaniment to the exhibition in which the designer gives an interview about her thought process behind the garments and her aims of the exhibition. It feels personal and in correlation with the structure and layout of the garments, it allows the spectator to consider their attitude towards the designs to their original aim. There is no misjudged representation of another external influence, it allows for a direct communication between the original thought process and the spectators, which makes for an honest consideration of the exhibition.

The corsets made out of broken glass fragments and barbed wire hang from steel chains on white padded coat hangers, which gives a daunting and spooky feel it is as their owners have long been gone and only the hard shell of their garments remains. They represents the theme of isolation as the garments seem lonely and isolated by not being with a mannequin, this is further emphasised by the use of broken glass fragments, as glass as a material is difficult to mould to desired shapes and when broken is hard to repair to its once perfect position so each fragment becomes isolated and frayed.

Diana Dias-Leảo contemplates the notion of the male gaze on the garments as they are made to look sexy by all the dresses being backless, which is a sign of vulnerability of the wearer and by the corsets having the traditional plastic fasteners, which connotes sexiness and is typically to be found as the destination for the male gaze. The connoted sexiness is at first appealing but on closer inspection the garments have a sharp, dangerous twist of being unable to touch and therefore controlled by the male gaze by the materials used. It gives the power and control back to the wearer as they can be seen as desired and sexy but be incomplete control and thus reverses the notion of the male gaze.

The garments also approach the theme of body image and represent a visual form of self harm by the use of barbed wire as the main body structure. The garments act as an extended metaphor of the wearers agonised feelings which normally are concealed, they represent an honest visual approach to many women’s fear surrounding body image in a juxtaposed beautiful fashion.

The cobweb dress is positioned on a white, headless mannequin with a round base, the dress twists and manipulates the fabric to come to a tight peak around the base of the mannequin. This connotes the feel of restrictiveness and self control which is further emphasised in the bodice of the dress, as the fabric does not flow and instead is collected in different size webs around the bodice.  This imagery of restrictiveness plays on the sex appeal of the garment and relates a negative correlation between the desire for one to be seen as sexy and the imposed restrictiveness this causes on the wearer, due to the male gaze.

The long dresses are beautifully designed to look ethereal and have fairytale connotations as they are long, glistening with muted non-offensive colouring such as subtle pink, blue and green. The use of glass fragments in this case reflect the light and look as if the dress is shining from within to reflect the beauty of the wearer. As Diana Dias-Leảo said, ‘even though the image is glittering it is the person inside who is priceless.’

The exhibition is a beautifully well constructed collection of Diana Dias-Leảo continuous development of work using glass from 2005 to 2010, it highlights many issues surrounding women and their feelings towards body image which is subtly connoted in the use of materials and the way they are designed. The exhibition is small but perfectly balanced with the rest of the Walker Art Gallery, this is further metamorphosed in the gift shop where there is no replica imagery to be bought about the exhibition, such as post cards.  It remains loyal to its original aim of letting the garments speak for themselves and not being commercialised by an exterior force, by allowing the spectator to be that and appreciate the beauty of the designs and not be directed to a pre-deceived thought and imagery path.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

'Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850.' Sudley House, Liverpool, 07/08/11.

Costume Drama: prints of ladies in costume

Sudley House once belonged to the proud owner of a Mr George Holt, a Liverpool based shipping merchant. He believed it was his families responsibility to 'use their wealth for the good of the community.' Three centuries later and his wish has been granted, Sudley House is now owned by Liverpool City Council and is currently home to the exhibition,'Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850.'

Sudley House is lavish in style but reserved in structure and ambiance, set in twenty nine acres of grounds the gardens compliment the extrovert inner details of the house. As you enter through the grand double doored, high arched entrance you are instructed to follow a devised route, starting with the library, then drawing room, dining room and on to the morning room. Each room has a video audio accompaniment to give visitors a detailed look at the life of the Holt's in 1884. The rooms are heavily adorned with original features of an early Victorian cabinet of curiosities style of different sized paintings hung all around the room at various heights, resulting in the rooms being a source of entertainment in themselves by their desired grandeur and the feelings they evoke onto the visitor.

The grandeur continues as you go up the red carpeted spiraling staircase, passing ascending portraits of the Holt family, to three separate rooms displaying the contents of the exhibition.

As you enter the first room there is a large panelled information board on the wall with a gold print border, which gives information about the era and how they dressed as to display their wealth. The board is so concise in its evaluative meaning and what it aims to display, that it only displays one message of extreme wealth and is not a true representative of the Victorian era in which it aims to display.

Opposite and behind a red cord, that I assume was chosen to evoke glamour, pristeness and the specialness of the garments are eleven headless mannequins alligned next to each other. they are not arranged in chronological order and with only one dress given its original owners of being from a farming family at Church Lane, Netherton but no further explanation. The labels in front of the dresses are in similar fashion as the main information board of being concise in style and by not giving the original owners names, occupation and so on, it is up to the visitors to further elaborate on the dresses original aim, usage and what type of family it belonged to.

The room is dark as roller blinds are used over the two large windows, as to make it seem intimate which is also conveyed by the recording of a piano playing over speakers. The room looks staged and not in fitting with the rest of the house, it is as the dresses have just been placed together without the relation between each dress and the distance between them being examined in their layout and position to the rest of the house.

The second room of the exhibition display is the largest with your attention immediately drawn to the four headless mannequins on a raised platform in the centre of the room. The mannequins are mostly wearing high waisted, full bottom dresses, with their arms poised in a elegant fashion by their sides, which represents the Victorian ladies demeanour at the time.

The same style information panel boards are around the exterior of the wall, with the same golder border again informing the visitor with concise facts about the clothing and Victorian sentiments at the time. The information boards do not evoke reflective consideration by the visitor, they just give facts in a stale way as to inform but not to entertain.

The third room is adjoining and seems as an after thought to the exhibition, there are two chairs and a coffee table with Jane Austen novels on, again this seems predictable and distracts from the exhibition dresses and their original use of being one to evoke glamour, envy and show wealth instead they are displayed in too much of a matter of fact way and do not reflect the joy the wearer once had out of the garments.

The exhibition although contains beautiful dresses the way they are arranged reflect Victorian society as strict and educating instead of the original aim of the dress being extravagant to display wealth. The display looks staged through out and is in stark contrast to the rest of the house as it looks natural and in keeping the Victorian era. By the labelling being too large it distracts the visitor from experiencing the beauty and design of the dress and allowing the dresses to speak for themselves.

Male fashion has been disregarded in the exhibition with only two male mannequins in the exhibition showing formal early eighteenth century dress. Make dandy's could have been explored and could have been an entertaining display of how men use to dress to show off and in their pursuit for decadence.

As the exhibition was ran by Liverpool City Council and was free admission, maybe it had to be tailored more to an informative, disciplined display. Instead if the dresses were allowed to be displayed in a more natural habitat such as a ladies boudoir it could have given life to the clothes and let them express the joy and decadence of the clothing. Also if audio visual displays were used of re-enactments of the original owners of the clothing, so the visitor could imagine the type of people who wore the dresses and the significance to them of their clothing, this would have made for an more entertaining visual display intended to discuss rather than inform the visitor of Victorian dress.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Rene Magritte : Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.

Rene Magritte : The Pleasure Principle, Liverpool Tate.

Rene Magritte was a Belgium surrealist painter involved with the fauvist movement, he was most renowned for his imagery that mixes banal objects in a bizarre way to create an immediate impact on the viewer, which is mysterious and takes time to investigate and explore further.

He did this by his innovative use of layering different textures, surface pattern, veiling imagery, repetition, and using paradoxical realities as seen in 'Day and Night' showing a juxtaposition of night and day.

The exhibition at the Liverpool Tate was set in eight rooms leading on from one another, it acted as a visual representative of Magritte's artistic timeline. All the rooms were minimal in design with the paintings hung side by side as in an drawing room, only one or two of the paintings had rope around them to section them off. The curator Christoph Gruenberg focused the viewers attention to certain pieces by placing an individual bench in front of  a painting, this suggested that it needs examining further or in some way is seen as more special and intriguing.

As you enter each room there is a written full description of the purpose of the room and the contents its contains. The description coupled alongside texts by certain images acts as a role of the museum guide in informing the visitor about the structure and history of the exhibition pieces. In the third room it acts as a resting point, so you can gather your thoughts, as there is a television showing a documentary on Magritte, there is no accompanying sound but it allows the visitor to contextualise the art work by studying Magritte and what he looked like.

A few of my favourite pieces from the exhibition -

The Lovers, 1928.

It represents unfathomable isolation by the faces being covered by a dirty looking rag, despite their intimate embrace. This acts as a reflection on the modern day couple as it insinuates that no matter how close one seems to be with a partner, there is something that self consciously restricts full commitment and holds you back, which is seen by the covering of the face.

The birth of the Idol, 1926.

It is representative of an materialistic society, by being named the birth of the idol it makes reference to the settings of 1920s when painted and when celebrity culture was becoming well known, such as flappers and designer Coco Chanel. The crashing waves and diving board in the shape of a person reflect a disjointed society,  the symbolism of the diving board and  instead not a person jumping off, acts as a metaphor that shows people's loss of curiosity by not looking over the edge, and instead being interested in others peoples endeavours, again reference to being named 'The birth if the Idol.'

Magritte was also interested in examining the relationship between object, representation and meaning, as seen in 'This is a piece of cheese,' and 'La Pipe.' He was most well known for challenging how an object has specific meanings and how these meanings can be changed, as every object has more than one meaning to whoever is interpreting the image. 'An object is never so closely attached to its name that another cannot be found which suits it better.' Magritte.

It is Magritte's involvement with Paul Nouge the leader of the Belgium Surrealist group, that has improved the awareness of the Dada movement and in turn inspired a range of artists such as Andy Warhol. He worked to make a mockery of what museum institutes consider as art, he did this by his use of bold, brash colours in the exhibition Galerie Goemans in Paris which resulted in his estrangement from the Parisian Surrealists.

Magritte was considered a modern artist by his innovative use of layering, and causing people to examine the meaning people give to objects and its banality in the sense as nothing is fixed, as one persons views are different compared to another, so in essence interpretation varies so no which one is set in stone.

'My painting is visible images which conceal nothing, they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself .. 'What does that mean?' It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.' Magritte.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Robert Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe's work acts as an visual influence on fashion photography today. He originally studied drawing, painting and sculpture before discovering his passion for photography.

Portrait X, Self Portrait, 1978.

His photographs challenged the aesthetic norm in the late 70s by the sitters being socialites, pornographic film stars and members of the S+M underground scene. With his background being in sculpture and the technical aspect of art this influenced his photographs as his images reflected the body as an object not the actual sitter as a person.

It is his De-eroticism of the body that makes his photographs so beautiful and the viewer concentrate on that rather than the content which can be seen by some as 'shocking.' He was well known for his portraits, he had a solo exhibition named 'Portraits,' in the Light Gallery, New York in 1973. His portraits are honest, the sitter's look vulnerable and unstaged.

Untitled, (randy) 1975. 
Untitled, c.1973.

There is currently a Robert Mapplethorpe: Retrospective exhibition running from January 22 - March 27 2011 in Postfuhramt, Berlin. The exhibition contains 187 photos that concentrate on the development of his photographic work. 

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The new gender revoloution

The concept of gender revolution is not a new one Yves Saint Lauren adapted men's tailoring to women's bodies in the infamous 'Le Smoking Woolen Pantsuit,' in 1978. It aided in the liberation of women with the new modern style.

However now in 2011 the concept of gender revolution takes a whole new twist, with the trend of the moment being 'femiman.'

The 19 year old, pre op transgender Andrej Pejic is the model of the moment, signed to Storm modelling agency he is listed to work for both male and female fashion shows.

This season he has worked for Jean Paul Gaultier in the 2011 menswear fashion show in Paris and Gaultier spring/summer 2011 Haute Couture show as the final blushing bride. Which Rhianna then wore at the Grammys.

Also he is the new face for Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring 2011 advertising campaign, photographed by Jeurgen Teller.

His beauty is so exquisite and ethereal it has no consequence to his physical sex. The boundaries of fashion have been blurred. The androgynous look has evolved to the 'femiman' trend and there is no longer a division between male and female just beauty.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Iki aesthetic ideal

When researching Japanese fashion I came across the notion of Iki. It is a widely used Japanese aesthetic ideal it stems from the human act of appreciating the beauty of nature. The cultural anthropologist Kuki Shuzo wrote thesis on Iki, it originated in the late 18th century by the towns people of Edo. The theory of Iki can be applied to fashion but unlike Western fashion it concentrates on simplicity in design as to sustain physical and emotional distance between the opposite sex, but not completely losing it.

Iki fashion is sophisicated, muted colours and minimalistic. It is a mode of self expression but unlike Western fashion it does not aim to bring attention to oneself, Iki prefers the overtone of the experience rather than the experience itself.
The image above named, 'Mikaeri Bijin,' translated the Beauty who looked back is an example of Iki art. The woman is looking over her shoulder as Iki beliefs say that you should not directly stare at your subject as it is an invasion of privacy and doesn't cohere to the Iki belief of discretion.
Iki is becoming more wideknown by the works of Japenese designers, the simplicity of the fashion design and the reserved beauty of the clothes are becoming the new mode of self expression.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Roberto Capucci

I have just discovered Roberto Capucci whilst I was looking into the debate whether fashion can be seen as art. Roberto Capucci is an Italian designer, he works outside the commercial world of fashion by not conforming to the norm and working on avant garde pieces. He hasn't compromised his artistic vision by making clothes for the mass main stream market. His clothes are works of art in their own rights, the complexity of his designs in creating ingeniously constructed outfits.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art are holding an retrospective exhibition of his work named, 'Art into Fashion,' running from 16th March to 5th June 2011. The exhibition will show a collection of 80 Capucci designs with Dilys Blum as curator.