The Art of Fashion: Personal

Style, Politics, and Pussy Hats June 29, 2017

A woman stares wistfully from the opening in her hijab. Theweight of the black shrouds covering her face is emphasized by the layers of heavy black paint on the cloudy white canvas. The scrawny trees in the undefined landscape are barren, while she is thickly clothed. Tiny birds float easily into the background, while she remains grounded in the front of the picture plane. This black and white painting, by George Williams, sits below a hot-pink pussy hat on the wall of the Fountain House Gallery, knitted by Katie Holten. The interaction of Williams’s painting and Holten’s hat is one demonstration of the synergy of the gallery’s latest show, The Art of Fashion. Curated by Kathy Battista, Program Director, MA Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute New York, the show takes fashion beyond personal style, and explores what it means as an art form.

The Fountain House Gallery provides an environment for artists living and working with mental illness to pursue their creative visions and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The Art of Fashion showcases more than 70 works, in mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture, textile and video, with the works of mainstream artists sitting effortlessly with that of the Fountain House Gallery artists.

The show exposes how the materials we choose to put on our bodies can reflect both political and personal ideology. Fashion can be both oppressive and liberating. Battista explains, “Fashion is used to control people; prisoners

wear uniforms and women wear hijab in certain countries and it can be a form of oppression.” When we see the hijab-clad woman in George Williams’s The Dead of Winter or Katie Holten’s pink pussy hat, we consider politics before personal style. Traditional motifs of high fashion play a significant role in the exhibition, as does street style and celebrity culture.

Fashion can also undermine the visual homogeneity of sociocultural norms. Another work in the show, Eva O’Leary’s Elijah, presents a young boy

covered in pieces of paper, like a suit of flimsy armour. Scribbles of red marker decorate each piece of paper, and two cut outs over his eyes allow the boy to see. He loosely holds a light-blue balloon. Battista admires the “strangeness” of this photograph, highlighting the fact that fashion is sometimes used to confuse rather than conform.

The Art of Fashion showcases artwork by both Fountain House Gallery artists and other participating artists worldwide. Many of theses artworks feature this provocative “strangeness,” which opens a dialogue between the Fountain House artists and the other artists. Battista explains that “the mainstream artists are integrated into the Fountain House artists.” In conceiving the show, Battista encouraged them to “think about fashion in the widest sense, from textiles to identity and street fashion, and to New York as a center of fashion.” This common theme allowed artists with a range of aesthetics working in a variety of mediums to create works that function seamlessly in conversation with one another.

The dialogue created by Battista’s exhibition shows that fashion has a lot to say. Battista continues the conversation in the classroom at Sotheby’s Institute. Her Art of Fashion course explores the historical, political, and personal aspects of these closely related fields. While both fashion and art always seek something new, there is a continuity in the relationship between the two. This unending affair inspires artists from all creative fields, and keeps us talking about the fascinating dynamic between a masterpiece and la mode.

Written by Samantha MacAvoy | Main image: Marina Marchand, C'est La Mode (courtesy of Fountain House Gallery)

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