There are several things I love about Fashioning the Object, currently on view at the Art Institute: first of all, it is about as far as you can get from the kind of poky “fashion” exhibit you would see at the Chicago History Museum or even at the [substantially more sophisticated] Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Second - and maybe more signifcantly - the clothes on exhibit are almost all resolutely un-wearable.
If you are a fan of Project Runway, you know that there is a surfeit of talk about wear-ability. The contestants are admonished about producing stuff that is costume-y. Well, this is definitely not Project Runway. Fashion writers are quick to caution that the kind of clothing you see on runways at the couture fashion shows in Paris, New York and Milan are all about concept, and not, typically, “real” clothing. This show is definitely not a Paris runway show, either. Even though it uses the word “fashion” in its title, it is not about fashion in the sense of trend or fashionability; it’s an exhibition purportedly about clothes, but it’s not even, strictly, about Design. It’s really about Art: if you like the definition of design as creative problem solving, the material on display here is not a solution to a problem — even the problem “what should I wear?” It’s more of a philosophical, intellectual rumination on ideas that really have little to do with clothes.
The show is really three different exhibits. Only the Sandra Borklund presentation feels even remotely like a conventional “fashion” exhibit, with the sculptural, geometric garments displayed on headless mannequins arranged at regular intervals in a gallery space. But the objects themselves are just that — beautifully crafted objects in a gallery — and it is really hard to think of them as actual garments.
The section spotlighting the work of the British duo that works as Boudicca feels more like a nightclub than a museum, and it’s much more about video than it is about clothing design.
And even though Zoe Ryan [who curated the show] wore one of their pieces to the opening,
you really couldn’t imagine anyone wearing much of what they produce. That said, they showed one exquisitely “wearable” piece: a tailored cashmere overcoat that you could easily expect to see in the window at Barneys: it is almost anomalous in these aggressively avant surroundings.
Finally, the section devoted to the work of Bless makes you work really hard to even find the clothes — it’s really more an exercise in environmental design.
All of this exemplifies the direction of the museum’s design programming under Zoe Ryan, and illuminates the unusual position of an architecture/design department in an encyclopedic art museum setting. Art museums are, by their nature, about history. But unlike the fine arts, design and architecture are functional pursuits that, while they certainly have their historical elements, are really more about the present and the future — innovation, progress and novelty.
I think this forward-looking approach has caused Ryan some degree of difficulty in moving ahead. Despite the modernity of the Modern Wing building, the Art Institute remains a reasonably conservative institution, and while there’s substantial support for the contemporary, a lot of the Powers That Be feel that History trumps all.
It’s not too surprising, then, that there was a fair amount of grumbling among the Old Guard of the Architecture & Design Society at the opening of the show, although I’m wondering what the grumblers had expected. There are still a lot of people in Chicago who think that the Architecture and Design department should be concentrating on the city’s Great Legacy of architecture and design. No one is denying this, exactly, but to make the museum into the world class institution everybody seems to want it to be, they’ve got to expand their notions of what the mission is.
Maybe — with Ryan’s ongoing efforts — they’ll get it eventually.
The 7th annual Guerilla Truck Show took place on a rain free evening [in contrast to the crappy weather that’s plagued the last couple of editions] and from all indications was a major success. Originally conceived as an alternative creative environment to the buttoned up atmosphere at NEOCon, it’s evolved into a full-scale Happening.
Although GTS godfather Morlen Sinoway [below]
initially intended the event to provide local designers and artisans an outlet for their grass-roots, non-corporate creative energies, the ancillary activities — music, beverages, food and undifferentiated revelry — have really become the point of the evening.
That said, the format of the exhibits — artists and designers load their wares in standard small trucks and back them up to the loading docks that line Fulton Market, between Carpenter and May Streets — has transformed the whole thing into a series of intimate, one-person shows in very confined spaces.
You may not be seeing great design in every truck. In reality, you probably aren’t seeing it in any truck. What makes the experience exceptional, though, is its genuine, unedited, singularly personal nature. GTS provides a venue for artisanship mixed with unabashed self-promotion; what’s consistent among the exhibitors is a sincere, personal investment in the work presented. See if you find that at the Steelcase or Knoll show rooms this week.
Here’s some of the work that spoke to me for one reason or another.
Most of the GTS exhibitors are locals; Damian Velasquez makes his stainless steel furniture in bright powder coated finish, in Albuquerque;
he showed at the Old Town Art Fair over the weekend, and decided to stay a few extra days to attend GTS.
Recent SAIC grad Greta De Parry makes objects out of found wood — she’s seated on a stump that’s resin sealed and partially wrapped in a milk-lacquer finish. She calls these pieces “milk stools.”
Clifford Krapfl is an industrial designer who devised this hinged, modular design that combines functions of seating and storage and it’s also stackable.
The designers of New Breed Furniture Network weren’t in their truck when I came by, but even without chatting them up, it was clear to me they’d admired Jean Prouve as well as Pierre Jeanneret and the designs for the capital at Chandigarh
In addition to furniture, artists of many varieties showed their stuff.
Danielle Klinenberg, who lives and works in the Old Town house where she grew up, showed expressive watercolors that channel her impressions of Monet’s water lilies.
Chicago plastic surgeon Michael Schafer showed horse constructions he makes from driftwood that are more than simply reminiscent of Deborah Butterfield’s work, although he began doing them years ago and was completely unaware of Butterfield until his then-girlfriend [now his wife] clued him in.
Although the artist/ dealer dynamic may be a little apposite to the whole entrepreneurial spirit of GTS, somehow it seems acceptable for art dealer Aron Packer — who has always championed new and emerging talent — to have a truck on the street. Naturally, his was more gallery-esque than anyone’s, and he featured a comic book inspired series by gallery artist Steve Seeley
The event attracted its share of design-world heavy-hitters. Here, Zoe Ryan, recently named chief curator/department chair of Architecture at the Art Institute, talks with Graham Foundation executive director Sarah Herda,
Ryan was one of the jury for the evening, which gave first prize to Craighton Berman and second to Phlux Creative’s CAFEteria installation — probably the most cerebral entry of the night, if not exactly the most accessible — or marketable. Damian Velasquez’ metal furniture [see above] placed third.
And toward the shank of the evening, a small brass band entertained at the corner, providing a sort of surreal capstone to an exhilarating event.