Three photography heavy-weights, who have helped to define the look of fashion photography during the course of the last century, have solo exhibitions dedicated to their work – Baron Adolf de Meyer and Richard Alvedon are on display in New York whilst Juergen Teller is in London. The Body: Fashion and Physique at The Museum of FIT explores the complex history of the ‘ideal’ fashion body and the variety of body shapes that have been considered fashionable from the eighteenth century to the present. A number of dresses owned by Grayson Perry are on display at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. These are the fashion exhibitions worth a visit this December.
The Body: Fashion and Physique at The Museum of FIT (New York)
until May 5, 2018
The fashionable body is a cultural construct that has shifted throughout history to emphasize different shapes and proportions. However, the fashionable ideal does not feel so fluid in daily life. It can appear to be a fixed expectation, affecting how we view and treat our bodies, as well as how we view the bodies of others. The Body: Fashion and Physique explores the complex history of the “ideal” fashion body and the variety of body shapes that have been considered fashionable from the eighteenth century to the present. The exhibition also examines the relationship between fashion and body politics. Garments are supplemented with images from the popular press, fashion media, film, and other sources to demonstrate how the fashion industry has contributed to both the marginalization and celebration of certain body types within our culture.
The fashion industry has historically treated the body (particularly the female body) as malleable, something that can be molded and changed with the cut of a garment, sculpting underwear, diet, exercise, and even plastic surgery, depending on the period. Before the twentieth century, the ideal female figure was a mature, curvaceous body, punctuated by a narrow waist. To emphasize the narrowness of their waists, women wore boned undergarments called corsets, or stays.
During the eighteenth century, stays were largely reserved for women and girls of the elite. Technological innovations during the nineteenth century made corsets available to a much wider demographic of women. By the end of the century, women of all classes were expected to wear them, including pregnant women. Skirt silhouettes changed a number of times during the nineteenth century to emphasize particular proportions. By the late 1850s, a hooped understructure called a crinoline allowed the diameter of a fashionable skirt to widen to an extraordinary degree creating an illusion of a narrow waist. During the 1870s, skirts became slim at the sides and front, yet protruded considerably at the back. Equipped with understructures known as “bustles,” they suggested the wearer had a full posterior.
At the start of the twentieth century, the female body ideal began to shift from a soft, curvaceous figure to a thinner, younger physique — what Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT, has described as the change “from an opulent Venus to a slender, athletic Diana.” Women were increasingly encouraged to exercise and engage in sports. Garments grew looser and shorter, and boned corsets were replaced with stretchy foundation garments known as girdles. Girdles used elastic and rubber, which allowed for greater movement, but still compressed the wearer’s flesh, altering her physical appearance.
The silhouette of fashionable garments shifted throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The short, loose styles of the 1920s gave way to long, body-skimming gowns during the 1930s. Strong, padded shoulders dominated during. the early 1940s and were replaced by narrow- shouldered, full-skirted ensembles by the 1950s. The fashionable physique remained slender, as evidenced in fashion magazines, which continually recommended wearing foundation garments and keeping a regimen of light diet and exercise to attain (and maintain) the ideal fashion shape.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the fashionable ideal became increasingly young and thin, epitomized by the model Twiggy. Designers began making clothes that were more body-revealing, rejecting girdles and other foundation garments. This gave rise to a dieting craze, and by the 1980s, a new culture of physical fitness had begun to develop around aerobics. The ideal became a hard, muscular body for both men and women, which designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler emphasized in different ways.
Concerns about obesity have been on the rise since the 1980s, which has likely influenced body ideals, making the extreme opposite more desirable. Thus the toned body gave way to a waifish ideal during the 1990s. Teenage model Kate Moss (nicknamed “the waif”) pioneered the look in provocative ads that ignited a fashion photography aesthetic dubbed “heroin chic” for the gaunt appearances of the models.
Since the start of the twenty-first century, some brands have attempted to achieve greater diversity, yet most runway models continue to be thin white girls. But the internet and social media have changed the way people engage with fashion. The industry has opened up to a growing cross section of people, and certain designers have embraced a diverse view, including Becca McCharen-Tran of Chromat and Christian Siriano. On the runway, they use models from across races and sizes, including transgender models and some who wear prosthetics. They also produce their lines in a variety of sizes, rejecting “straight” and “plus” divisions. They are setting an example for the industry with the message that all bodies are beautiful and deserve to be included in fashion.
Quicksilver Brilliance: Adolf de Meyer Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
until March 18, 2018
A member of the “international set” in fin-de-siècle Europe, Baron Adolf de Meyer (1868–1946) was also a pioneering photographer, known for creating works that transformed reality into a beautiful fantasy. Quicksilver Brilliance will be the first museum exhibition devoted to the artist in more than 20 years and the first ever at The Met. Some 40 works, drawn entirely from The Met collection, will demonstrate the impressive breadth of his career.
The exhibition will include dazzling portraits of well-known figures of his time: the American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig; art patron and designer Count Étienne de Beaumont; aristocrat and society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell; and celebrated entertainer Josephine Baker, among others. A highlight of the presentation will be an exceptional book—one of only seven known copies—documenting Nijinsky’s scandalous 1912 ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune. This rare album represents de Meyer’s great success in capturing the movement and choreography of dance, a breakthrough in the history of photography. Also on view will be the artist’s early snapshots made in Japan, experiments with color processes, and inventive fashion photographs.
Richard Avedon – Nothing Personal at Pace Gallery (New York)
until January 13, 2018
Native New Yorkers Richard Avedon (1923-2004) and James Baldwin (1924-1987) met as students at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in the late 1930s. They became friends while writing for and editing The Magpie, the school’s literary magazine. Even as teenagers, they, in their writing, dealt with profound issues of race, mortality, and, as Avedon wrote, “the future of humanity” as World War II closed in on them.
In January of 1963, Avedon photographed Baldwin for a magazine assignment and suggested that they work on a book about life in America. Baldwin readily agreed. “This book,” said Baldwin at the time, “examines some national and contemporary phenomena in an attempt to discover why we live the way we do. We are afflicted by an ignorance of our natures vaster and more dangerous than our ignorance of life on Mars.”
Corresponding frequently with Baldwin, Avedon traveled extensively in 1963 and 1964 photographing portraits for the book while Baldwin wrote the essay. They met up periodically to share and discuss their progress. The collaboration resulted in some of Avedon’s most pivotal portraiture of his middle career, from civil rights icons (Malcolm X) to staunch segregationists (George Wallace); to aging stars (Joe Louis) and young fame seekers (Fabian); to powerful politicians (Adam Clayton Powell) and ordinary citizens; to young idealists (Julian Bond) and elderly pacifists (Norman Thomas); to patients committed to a mental institution who seek love, comfort, and some semblance of consideration.
At the core of the photographs – almost all of which will be on view at Pace Gallery – is the question of how Americans understand race relations and their own identities, and, by extension, the identities and civil rights of others.
Alison Jacques Gallery present its first solo exhibition of photographs by German artist Juergen Teller (b.1964, Erlangen). This exhibition comprises selections from three bodies of work – the artist’s iconic series Go-Sees; Enjoy Your Life! Junior, a recent collaboration with Bubenreuth Primary School in the artist’s hometown; and a ‘visual essay’ depicting a modern fairy tale about a boy who became a king.
The Go-Sees is a seminal work from Teller’s early career. Produced over the course of one year from May 1998, and shot from the threshold to Teller’s West London studio, the title of this series documents an industry term for a photographer’s first meeting with a new model. Unlike a casting, the ‘Go-See’ is a model’s testing ground; an open-ended encounter between the photographer and model, without the prospect of a definite commission. Like casting appointments, these events determine the potential career success for the model. Teller’s series obliquely interrogates the fashion industry with which he is involved.
Framed by the doorway of Teller’s studio, the Go-Sees are depicted in many guises: shy, confident, hopeful, disengaged, energetic, relaxed, and in casual clothing. Transgressing fine art and fashion photography, the portraits, as with all of Teller’s other work, are never retouched. Teller’s snapshot style and spontaneous and unusual angles defer from the polished visual protocols so closely associated with the luxury world.
Shown concurrently in the smaller exhibition room, Enjoy Your Life! Junior is the result of a school-led outing by 6 and 7-year-old students of Bubenreuth Primary to see Teller’s exhibition Juergen Teller at Kunstpalais in Erlangen (2017). An unusual exhibition to take primary school students to, the children were surprised and inspired by the honesty in Teller’s work. Reversing the situation of Go-Sees, Teller responded to the students’ enthusiasm with a spontaneous visit to the school during which he encouraged them to take photographs of each other and the artist himself. Subverting the conventional relationship of the artist and model, the children playfully re-enact some of Teller’s most iconic images.
Teller’s display of the Bubenreuth Primary kids’ photographs invites viewers to play a role in recollection, as one body of work develops from another and remind us of Teller’s humour, self-mockery and emotional honesty.
This exhibition explores the development of Teller’s work over the last two decades and its ability to change the perception of stereotypical ideals of beauty and aesthetics within present-time. The exhibition culminates in the upstairs gallery where a new body of work, shown for the first time, creates a visual narrative of a modern fairy tale; a portrait of a man born in London, a boy who became a king.
Making Himself Claire: Grayson Perry’s Dresses at Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool, London)
until February 4, 2018
This display features a number of dresses owned by the artist and activist Grayson Perry. The selection will include the dress worn by Grayson when he won the Turner Prize in 2003, as well as a number of dresses designed for the artist by students at Central Saint Martins.
Grayson Perry has been cross-dressing since he was a child, using it to step into a fantasy world where he felt safer. He describes himself as a transvestite and for him cross-dressing has an exciting, sexual aspect but he has no desire to become a female, nor to dress as a woman full-time.
After many years of experimenting with cross-dressing and wearing conventional female clothes, Grayson became dissatisfied with the lack of reaction he provoked. In response, he developed the persona known as Claire. Claire appears in public and in Grayson’s art in a number of different guises, ranging from a little girl in a frilly dress to an adult woman. As Claire, he can dress in an outrageously flamboyant way and enjoy the reaction she causes.
Grayson has designed many of Claire’s outfits himself, but every year the fashion students at London’s Central St Martin’s take part in a competition to design new dresses for her and Grayson encourages them to make the dresses as bizarre and exciting as they can.