Nieuwsbrief
Autumn 2009: The Art of Fashion
September 2009

The curator explains...

José Teunissen, guest curator, in the exhibition catalogue: "The Oxford English Dictionary defines fashion as ‘the mode of dress, etiquette, furniture, speech, etc. prevalent at a particular time’. While this is the sense often employed in everyday life, it ignores the discipline’s current signicance as a cultural phenomenon.

The Art of Fashion catalogue
The Art of Fashion catalogue

In Seeing Through Clothes, Anne Hollander defines fashion as follows: ‘Dress is a form of visual art, a creation of images with the visible self as its medium’. Hollander thus interprets fashion as a visual art form and not as utility or craft. In her eyes, fashion is a form of performance art in which self-expression and the individual’s relationship to the world are central. And so she gets to the heart of contemporary (avant-garde) fashion, which constantly redefines the body’s relationship to its environment. It is precisely this function that makes fashion such a topical and vital expression in our contemporary culture.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines fashion as ‘the mode of dress, etiquette, furniture, speech, etc. prevalent at a particular time’. While this is the sense often employed in everyday life, it ignores the discipline’s current significance as a cultural phenomenon.
In Seeing Through Clothes, Anne Hollander defines fashion as follows: ‘Dress is a form of visual art, a creation of images with the visible self as its medium’. Hollander thus interprets fashion as a visual art form and not as utility or craft. In her eyes, fashion is a form of performance art in which self-expression and the individual’s relationship to the world are central. And so she gets to the heart of contemporary (avant-garde) fashion, which constantly redefines the body’s relationship to its environment. It is precisely this function that makes fashion such a topical and vital expression in our contemporary culture.

Fashion is no longer simply a matter of launching the latest hemline and colours or presenting an idealised image of a man or woman. Fashion raises questions about who we are and what we do. Sometimes fashion deals with cultural or political issues. Hussein Chalayan’s installation Kinship Journeys (2003), for example, used a trampoline, a confessional and a boat/coffin to symbolise the three essential phases of life.

Since the 1960s fashion has increasingly colonised the domain of fine art. That is not so surprising, since they share one important characteristic: both have a distinct and self-referential language. In order to understand fashion and art you must be au fait with what is ‘new’ or ‘original’ or what is ‘different’ from what went before. Like fashion, modern art has a fixation with ‘the original’ and ‘the new’, both of which are a product of modernity.

But over the past hundred and fifty years they have been perceived very differently in cultural terms. Until recently fashion was seen as a capitalist commodity, as something commercial and an idle pursuit, whereas art was experienced as profound, as something requiring serious intellectual attention. Fashion was thus merely a consumer good that lost its value upon purchase, whereas art was and is a recognised and valuable investment. In the 1960s these classical views were toppled by the democratisation and threat to the social hierarchy that
attended the emergence of youth culture. Taste, art and culture became a product of and for the masses, and the distinction between high (art) and low (fashion) became blurred. Movements such as Pop Art and Performance Art questioned notions of identity, the nature of our bodies and our relationship to the world. As a result, the media and the relationship between the artist and the public became more important than the visual aesthetic of the art work. From that moment onwards fashion was no longer prescribed by the couturiers in Paris, but came from the street. So the media was indispensable for fashion too. Fashion became visual culture and therefore more political: subcultural groups and feminists could use it to
communicate their ideas. Thus fashion became an autonomous forum for expression. It could be used to express one’s identity and one’s imagination: who are we when we wear such clothes?

In the 1980s Japanese designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons, and a little later Belgian designers such as Martin Margiela, began to explore the various dimensions of fashion and dress through research into patterns, into the effect of worn clothes and the proportions of the body. Clothes have a strong corporeal dimension. They are closely related to personal memories, they are in contact with the skin and thus evoke tactile experiences, they always bear traces of the past, and – as Viktor & Rolf show us time and again – they have the power to evoke imaginary worlds."

Read on in the catalogue The Art of Fashion: Installing Allusions, available in the Museumshop for €17,50. (ISBN: 978-90-6918-241-4)

Back