Fashion’s animated exhibitions: what the gallery can learn from the catwalk

By Molly Burdett


In a previous entry to this journal Hannah Sayles discusses the brilliant work of duo The White Pube and how they challenge the classic white-walled gallery aesthetic that reinforces the elitist attitudes surrounding the art world. Hannah’s piece reignited my disdain for the white cube aesthetic, not only for its maintenance of elitism but because of this unfounded need to present art in such a sterile environment. Galleries often show us art by creating a sort of vacuum around it, where nothing else is allowed to be visually or sensorily exciting. The silence and blankness of the art gallery would excuse itself by asserting that it is trying to show the artwork at its best with no other distractions, but this argument seems nonsensical when we consider that art is created out of a world of fullness, inspired and influenced by a variety of emotions and senses. Why are we not displaying art in this plentiful environment from which it is born?

Last summer I visited the Royal Academy of Arts in London for its 250th Summer Exhibition which was curated by Grayson Perry, and immediately felt more excited and inspired within the space of that exhibition than any I had been to before. Largely out of necessity due to the huge volume of pieces being exhibited, each room was filled with works arranged close together, sometimes almost battling for space, which was refreshing compared to the excessive spacing that normally takes place in the big galleries meaning only 7 or 8 works can go in one huge room. In particular with the wall hung pieces at the RA, the proximity of one to another, filling the whole wall with as much art as would fit, meant pieces were able to speak to each other in the mind of the viewer and potential interesting connections and conversations could be drawn. As well as this, the creative team decided to paint the gallery walls in some of the rooms, most significantly perhaps being the bright yellow of the room of pieces chosen by Grayson Perry himself. This altering of space to communicate with the art it is displaying is a concept I feel galleries should engage in more often, and a place where the art world could learn this from it its sister, the fashion world.

The catwalk show perhaps has more in common with the theatre production than the art exhibition; shows are performances with sets and soundtracks. But the purpose of a fashion show is to display a collection of art, and the way it does this is much more sensational and immersive than the typical white cube gallery exhibition. For a modern fashion show the whole aesthetic experience is hugely important: as much thought is given to the choice of venue, its decoration and the music playing as the arrangement and order of the clothes coming out. As displayed by Kam Dhillon’s discussion on Highsnobiety, Chanel are particularly good at creating this entire experience of aesthetic interest. Frequently using the spectacular Grand Palais as the venue, Karl Lagerfeld created a whole supermarket, a glacier, a grand banquet and many other magnificent sets in his time at the label, and the clothes were able to exist in conversation with this created environment. For each show the music is carefully chosen to correlate with the mood of the clothes and the set they are being shown in; a pleasant counter to the silence in visual art galleries. A fashion show is simply an art exhibition on the move as the pieces are carried by people, and this should mean that galleries put as much effort into showing the public artworks in a way that engages with the world that we live in from which art is created. White walls and silence are outdated and unnecessary; art needs to be shown in spaces and environments that excite all the senses. As Hannah pointed out, The White Pube are doing great work to make art spaces engaging and full of conversation, and I believe a glance across at the fashion industry’s ideas would help to lift galleries from white cubes into places of plentiful sensational experience.

Image: own photograph of a selection of works in the yellow room of the Royal Academy 250th Summer Exhibition

Highsnobiety article:

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