Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seeing Folk Couture

A view of the main gallery for Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art
I made a quick trip into the city yesterday to see the American Folk Art Museum exhibition, Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art.  What a treat!  I am becoming more and more enamored with this little gem of a museum and their beautifully installed, thought-provoking exhibitions.

For Folk Couture, the Museum gathered together 100 works of art from its permanent collection and invited thirteen fashion designers to create a garment inspired by one or more of the items they saw.  The designers were drawn to twenty-three objects -- ranging from quilts, sculpture and photography -- from which they developed their own creations.

The Museum organized the exhibition in four sections -- Pattern, Disembodiment, Narrative, and Playfulness -- in order to create some structure in which to reference the connections between the garments and the various artworks from the Museum collection.  (I understand the underlying need to create some structure to the exhibition, but I didn't feel that this particular organization was necessary to my enjoyment of the art nor did it help me better understand the artistic dialogue between inspiration and artwork/garment.)   However, I found the installation design -- which did not necessarily follow the aforementioned groupings -- to be very compelling.  The folk art inspiration(s) are displayed alongside the contemporary garment, with a placard commentary from each of the designers about their inspiration and/or some element of their design processes.

Michael Bastian, New York,  Untitled
Inspired by Anniversary Tin: Man's TopHat and Eyeglasses (1880-1900) Artist unidentified,  Man in Top Hat with Cane c. 1890, Artist unidentified, and Archangel Gabriel Weathervane, c. 1840, Artist Unidentified (hanging on wall)

The wall color varies through the different groupings which provides great backdrops for the garments.  (I am gaining an appreciation for the well-placed colored wall in museum settings.)  The lighting installation was spectacular, allowing each item to be seen in detail on its own and in conjunction with its "partner".  Some garments were illuminated to cast intriguing and delightful shadows; many gallery corners were left a little dark to add another layer of visual contrast.

Jean Yu, South Korea, The Animal Human Dress
Inspired by Porcupine, David Alvarez (b. 1953)

Lovely shadow
Some of the garments are very wearable, such as Catherine Malandrino's hand crocheted cotton Handkerchief Dress

Inspired not by the quilt behind it, but by a remarkable cut paper artwork similar to scherenschnitte
and Gary Graham's Untitled ensemble.

Untitled stands before its inspiration, Ann Carll Coverlet: Blazing Star and Snowballs,
Attributed to the Mott Mill, 1810 

Other creations are not so wearable, such as John Bartlett's whimsical Elongated Shirt/Pant Two-dimensional Wall Hanging inspired by Man with Green Shirt and White Suspenders, Artist Unidentified, late 19th/early 20th century.

The exhibition also includes a design wall, with sketches and samples from various designers in preparation for this exhibition, as well as two videos in which the designers share their process.  I bought the exhibition catalog as reference and a souvenir.  I must say that the photography in the book allows for appreciation of some of the detail of the works but since there aren't any installation photos, the book lacks an element of the drama that's been created by the fabulous lighting in the exhibition. However, don't let that discourage you from buying the book.  The essays are thoughtful and well-written and the insights into each designer and their work is fascinating.

I strongly recommend this intimate look at artistic inspiration.  Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art will be on display at the American Folk Art Museum through April 23rd.


Deborah Boschert said...

This is such an enticing review! I loved every photo and all your thoughtful insights. I must see more. I just can't decide what to do first: peruse the museum's website, go to Amazon for the catalog, or buy a plane ticket to come see the exhibit (and you!).

Norma Schlager said...

Deborah is right....what a great review. I must say that this exhibit seems to be right up my alley,,,,,fashion and art. I'll think I should try to get into NYC to see it. Thanks for sharing it.

Kristin L said...

What a fantastic pairing! Thanks for the thoughtful (as always) review. I think that porcupine dress is quite wearable!