September fashion exhibitions

Identity as a theme underpins all the exhibitions opening this month. At Fondazione Prada in Milan, African American identity is examined with a display of images from Ebony and Jet magazines from the 1940s onwards. At Magnum Print Room in London, an exhibition titled Collaborative Portraiture explores collaboration and control in portraiture of women, through the work of three women Magnum photographers. The polarising, politicises and gendered colour pink gets its own exhibition at The FIT in New York.


Source: Isaac Sutton

The Black Image Corporation at Fondazione Prada (Milan)
until January 14, 2019

Fondazione Prada presents “The Black Image Corporation”, an exhibition conceived by Theaster Gates, from 20 September 2018 to 14 January 2019 at the Osservatorio venue in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan.

The project explores the fundamental legacy of Johnson Publishing Company archives, which feature more than 4 million images and have contributed to shape the aesthetic and cultural languages of the contemporary African American identity.

Founded by John H. Johnson in 1942, his eponymous publishing company created two landmark publications for black American audiences: the monthly magazine Ebony and its weekly sister outlet Jet, whose publication was respectively initiated in 1945 and in 1951. Ebony and Jet were committed to both celebrating positive everyday events and depicting the complex realities black Americans faced in postwar USA. The magazines quickly became two of the major platforms for the representation and discussion of black culture, covering a broad range of events and personalities from historic milestones such as the March on Washington in 1963 and the first African-American astronaut to sports icons and show business celebrities.

For Fondazione Prada Osservatorio, Theaster Gates has conceived a coral and participatory exhibition focused on the works of two photographers: Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton. As stated by Gates, “for this show, I hope to tease out the creation of female iconic moments by Sleet and Sutton and also offer small forays into the lives of everyday people through never-before-seen images from the Johnson Collection. The archives speak about beauty and black female power. Today it seems to me a good time to dig into the visual lexicon of the American book and show images that are rarely seen outside of my community. I wanted to celebrate women of all kinds and especially black women”.

Sleet and Sutton’s images representing the gamut of Black American standard social elite and celebrity narration to politics, self-help, sports, beauty and sexuality will be displayed in a structure, conceived by Gates for the second level of Osservatorio. While most frames contain images of Black women, actresses and models, some frames show the reverse of photographs that include information on location, date and photographer. The visitors will be invited to freely explore this extensive visual archive pulling out and contemplating single frames from the structure or putting them on display outside of it, making them visible for other visitors. This presentation will be completed by a series of large format photographs realized by Sleet and Sutton and selected by Theaster Gates.

On the first level of Osservatorio the artist will install original furnishings and interior design elements designed for JPC’s downtown Chicago offices by Arthur Elrod. Known as the Ebony/Jet Building, designed by John W. Moutoussamy and now a designated Chicago Landmark.Within this set-up, visitors will be able to browse and read original copies of Ebony and Jet magazines. A video shot by Gates and documenting the real architectural spaces where the offices were located will be displayed in the show.


An ensemble from the “18th-Century Punk” Collection (fall 2016) Comme des Garçons. Source: The Museum at FIT

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color at the Museum at FIT (New York)
until January 5, 2019

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color is organized by the museum’s director and chief curator, Dr. Valerie Steele. Pink features approximately 80 ensembles from the 18th century to the present, with examples by designers and brands such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Alessandro Michele of Gucci, Jeremy Scott of Moschino, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. The exhibition will be accompanied by a book published by Thames & Hudson and a free symposium on October 19, 2018, that will be livestreamed.

Pink provokes exceptionally strong feelings of both attraction and repulsion. Indeed, it has been called the most divisive of colors. “Please, sisters, back away from the pink,” urged journalist Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post when she learned that tens of thousands of protesters were planning to wear pink pussy hats at the Women’s March of 2017. The issues facing women are “serious,” she added, and “cute” pink hats risked trivializing these issues. Yet attitudes towards pink are changing, and the color is increasingly regarded as cool and androgynous.

Although pink is popularly associated with little girls, ballerinas, and all things feminine, the stereotype of pink for girls and blue for boys only really gained traction in the United States in the mid-20th century, and the symbolism of pink has varied greatly across world history. By placing men’s, women’s, and children’s pink clothing from both Western and non-Western cultures — including India, Africa, Mexico, and Japan — in a historical context, Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color corrects popular misconceptions, encourages viewers to question clichés and received opinion, and demonstrates that “It is society that ‘makes’ color, defines it, gives it meaning” — to quote the great color historian Michel Pastoureau.

The exhibition is divided into two sections. The introductory gallery focuses primarily on the theme “Pretty in Pink” with approximately 35 examples of traditionally “feminine” pink clothes organized chronologically from the mid-19th century through the 20th century. It begins by juxtaposing an 1857 bright pink crinoline dress with a black 1860 man’s suit, illustrating the feminization of color in the 19th century.

Subsequent dresses demonstrate how different shades of pink came in and out of fashion, evoking different ideas about femininity. Around 1900, for example, pale pinks implied delicate, aristocratic femininity, while by 1912 a vibrant cherry pink indicated a more exotic image. The 1920s, famous for the Little Black Dress, actually saw a rise in popularity for a range of pinks, crowned by Schiaparelli’s aptly named Shocking Pink of the late 1930s.

Evening dress (circa 1954). Source: The Museum at FIT

The 1950s are notorious as the era of the “feminine mystique” when gender stereotyping was reinforced throughout society and the pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys gender coding took off.  Naturally, there are many 1950s feminine pink dresses for girls and women, although Brooks Brothers also sold pink shirts for men. The 1960s continued to witness the popularity of many “pretty in pink” dresses, such as a 1960 cocktail dress by Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior. The 1970s saw a decline in pink fashion, although fluorescent pink appeared. By the 1980s, pink was back in fashion, although often, as with a 1980 hot pink “power suit” by Claude Montana, it also served to acknowledge women’s growing social authority.

In addition to the clothing and accessories on display, there is a fascinating diorama of pink toys and dress-up clothes for girls, dating from the 1950s to the present, including dolls, “princess” costumes, My Little Pony, and other highly gendered commodities.

In contrast to the chronological layout of the introductory gallery, the main gallery is organized thematically to highlight key concepts in the history of pink. The first section, “Pompadour Pink,” features several 18th-century ensembles, including a woman’s pink robe à la française, a man’s pink habit à la française, and a man’s pink banyan. These objects show how pink was a new and highly fashionable unisex color in 18th-century Europe—in contrast to the 19th and 20th centuries when pink was coded as a “feminine” color. In the 18th century, pink was also important in painting and interior design.

Nearby, on the left side of the gallery, there is a small section on the pink-versus-blue gender coding in children’s wear, a binary that was still in flux in the late 1920s, when opinion was divided as to whether pink was for boys or for girls. The final decision seems to have been influenced by publicity surrounding a millionaire’s purchase of the paintings Blue Boy and Pinkie. Reproductions of these are featured along with that of another 18th-century painting, Pink Boy.

The exhibition places pink in a global context, exploring how the color has been used in non-Western cultures. In India, for example, pink has long been worn by both men and women, while in Mexico the color Rosa Mexicano is associated with national identity. Western designers have drawn on these associations; as Diana Vreeland once said, “Pink is the navy blue of India.” Schiaparelli’s Shocking Pink was explicitly associated, in her mind, with Asia and Latin America.

In the center of the gallery is a grouping of platforms, “Rose/Eros” and “Pink: The Exposed Color,” exploring the erotic connotations of pink, which are both significant and overdetermined. Among the reasons why pink is widely regarded as an erotic color are the pinky-beige of Caucasian skin, which has led to the idea that pink is associated with nudity. Added to this are the fact that certain eroticized zones of the body such as the mouth, genitals, and nipples are known as “pink parts”; the fact that flowers, long associated with feminine beauty, are the sex organs of plants; and that pink-colored cosmetics are used to simulate blushing. Lingerie, corsets, and evening gowns, often produced in shades of pink, are featured in this section.

Pink has played a notable role in both political protests and popular music associated with rebellious youth. The transgressive role of pink is emphasized across several platforms featuring both men’s and women’s clothes, ranging from vernacular garments to avant-garde high fashion. Featured items include pink pussy hats, and looks associated with music genres ranging from punk to hip-hop.

The second gallery expands audience perspectives on pink and shows how contemporary designers are increasingly challenging traditional ideas about sweet, pink femininity. Rei Kawakubo, the radical designer behind Comme des Garçons, has been especially influential with collections ranging from “Biker/Ballerina” to “18th-Century Punk.” Even the house of Valentino has produced T-shirts asserting that “Pink Is Punk.”


FRANCE. Paris. Agata. (2017) by Bieke Depoorter

Collaborative Portraiture at Magnum Print Room (London)
until October 25

A new exhibition in the London Magnum Print Room explores collaboration and control in portraiture of women, through the work of three women Magnum photographers.

Collaborative Portraiture brings together work by Magnum photographers Carolyn Drake, Bieke Depoorter and Susan Meiselas to present different creative strategies to portray female subjects. In each series on display, the sitters have been invited to present themselves on their own terms, to perform, play and control their representation in front of the lens.

Portraiture has always played an important role within Magnum’s documentary photography, and its members have continually investigated and rethought the process of photographic storytelling. One component within this has been to democratise the act of photographing, shifting the emphasis from “taking” photographs of their subject, to a collaborative exchange that incorporates multiple points of view. At a time when female representation has become increasingly politicised, this exhibition takes three bodies of work, one historical and two contemporary, where portraiture becomes a process, through long-term commitment to a subject and reassessment of the image through time.


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