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One can tell as much about a culture by the paintings it produces as by the dresses and articles of clothing it uses for individual and collective expression.
–Georges Bergés, Gallerist
Despite the long and tangled history of fashion bleeding into art and vice versa, these categorical distinctions are debated ad nauseum. And, while I may contradict myself, proceeding to debate said categories here, this line of questioning is a bit tired, isn’t it? Over the last couple of decades many high-end fashion houses have presented exhibitions in major international museums (Alexander McQueen at MoMA; Saint Laurent at Petit Palais; Chanel at the Met; Dior at the Denver Art Museum). Just this fall, 69 held an exhibit at MOCA Pacific Design Center, and Eckhaus Latta hosted a pop-up-store-cum- exhibition at the Whitney. And still, we are implored by curators and gallerists to be dazzled by the fluidity between haute couture and contemporary art.
The objects in Ingrid Luche’s Ghebaly Gallery exhibition, titled They can’t live without it. We can., looked like fashion. Dynamic printed images folded over afghans and pleated skirts. A handful of photographs repeated as printed motifs across multiple works, making the exhibition feel like it was showcasing the complete clothing line from some recent season. Similarly, the forms of the sculptures, which the artist called Ghost Dresses— familiar and namable clothing items (shawl, shirt, skirt, dress)—were installed with all the trappings of high-end retail. Luche created inventive hangers for each garment: assemblages of rope, chain, jewelry, and rattan. Rather than clothing racks, the artist swapped in metal frames used to hold photo backdrops. The installation begged the question: if it looks like clothing and is hung like clothing, isn’t it?
Yet, throughout press materials, there was an insistence that the artist’s pieces are meant to be mused upon rather than worn. Her garments (referred to in turn as both sculptures and dresses in the press release) elicited the body while also denying it, and herein lay the contextual divide. Fashion is meant to be touched and artworks are meant to be pondered, as if touching might minimize the effect of the saintly art object. When the body utilizes and engages with an object, is that object less pure? Is said object less able to communicate ideas, once tainted by our imperfect flesh? It all sounds a bit biblical, doesn’t it?
Luche, a Paris-based artist, was inspired on a recent trip to Los Angeles by our unique local trappings: you know, the burning houses and celebrity sightings that make up everyday Angeleno life. (The works were “conceptualized in California and produced in Paris.”) Green Denim (all works 2018), a thick denim muumuu, was adorned with green plus signs—the all-too-familiar symbol of the weed dispensaries that dot our streetscapes. House on Fire took for its print an image of a burning L.A. house that the artist saw on TV. A series of pleated polycotton skirts (RP–IL 01-03) used as their pattern Western desert landscapes lifted from Richard Prince photographs that Luche saw on view at LACMA during her visit. Extending this Western motif, Luche fashioned several cowboy- inspired shawls (Plastron 03 and Plastron 01)—made with faux leather and dotted with stars, tassels, and sequined flocking, like glammed-up sheriff’s vests. California was generalized into patterning, motif, surface. Many of the graphic tees wouldn’t feel out of place on an Urban Outfitters sale rack.
Perhaps to personalize otherwise broad geographic generalizations, each work was dappled and accessorized with objects: cotton flowers, headphones, sleeping masks from an Air France flight, a plastic badge holder. In their function, these objects recalled the accessories Eleanor Antin employed in her sculptural portraits of notable female artists. Yet Luche’s garments lacked the highly-tuned specificity of Antin’s object pairings (an easel, a jar of honey, and a lush drape of red velvet make up Antin’s Carolee Schneemann portrait). Although Luche doted upon and fine tuned each garment, they still felt mutable and transient, meant to be seen as part of a collection rather than individually.
As a writer, I can’t help but get stuck in language. Calling a pleated skirt a sculpture rather than a garment is, of course, a fall out of Duchamp’s notion that is nothing new—the same way Darren Bader can plop a wheel of cheese into a gallery, the result being a dairy product that takes on the value of a high-end art object. Shifting the conceptual boundaries around an object is so passé at this point, that I’m left thinking, “yes, and?” So here, the conversation about the fluidity of fashion and art ultimately distracts from any deeper inquiries into the objects themselves.
While interesting moments of printed image occurred in small doses across the sculptures—on one garment, a muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body became warped when stretched over a hoola-hoop rattan hanger—their fast namability into clothing categories didn’t provide a deeper inquiry into their formal qualities. The display mechanisms lifted from the realm of retail shopping added to this quickness. (Luche’s pleated skirts don’t exactly entice me to walk around and experience them in the round.) Doesn’t a skirt called a sculpture become beholden to qualities of sculpture: form, balance, contrast, and dimensionality? Call me a traditionalist, but I still expect a good sculpture to do these things.
Lindsay Preston Zappas is the founder and editor-in-chief of Carla.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 15.