Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“Fashion and Folk Art” Exhibition

"Quilty" Pleasure

ThreeASFOUR dress with the Friendship Star Quilt that inspired it
(Click on images for full size views)

I can positively guarantee that after you see “Fashion and Folk Art”, a new and unique exhibition mounted by the American Folk Art Museum, (January 21 - April 23, 2014), you will you re- think  quilts, weather vanes, coverlets, sculptures, artwork,  furniture, and everything else traditionally associated with the genre. It’s a marvelous premise: in an effort to explore the ongoing relationship between inspiration and creation, thirteen established and emerging designers were invited to create original ensembles inspired by a selection chosen from the museum’s permanent collection, to be displayed alongside the original (they actually converged on the museum’s huge warehouse downtown and had their pick of the extraordinary pieces). The fact that folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative, but marked by a naivety, authenticity, and honesty often time lacking in flighty fashion, makes for a match made in heaven -- in my opinion.

Dr. Valerie Steele & Yeohlee

The entire creative journey, from beginning to end (complete with sketches, swatches, and images of the original inspiration and the finished product) is charted on the museum’s brilliantly interactive website (www.folkartmuseum.org). But it goes without saying that there is nothing like getting up close and personal, which I did last evening during the course of a special champagne preview which boasted a live DJ. In addition to the designers who were on hand, the large crowd included such notables as FIT’s Dr. Valerie Steele, who was praised for her generosity during one of the several opening remarks, and Bill Cunningham.

Gary Graham coat dress ensemble and the Ann Carill coverlet
that inspired it

It was wonderful to actually see the exhibition come to life in such an inventive way, with each designer getting enough of his/her own space to really tell their story. Unsurprisingly, several of the designers were inspired by different versions of the iconic American quilt (considered to be a “glorious American art form” by the museum, and a favorite subject which has been the focus of countless exhibitions). To wit, Chadwick Bell took a cue from a white work quilt (early 1800’s), for his bold white dress; the jumping off point for Koos Van Den Akker’s colorful and shimmery collage gown was a contemporary art quilt constructed of kimonos, (in addition to 2 portraits, a cityscape, and needlework); Fabio Costa’s capelet and skirt were inspired by a 18th century white work quilt and a 19th century Sacred Heart woodcarving; ThreeASFOUR’s (Gabi Asfour, Angela Donhauser, Adi Gil) love affair with a 19th century Friendship Star quilt resulted in their laser cut flower printed patent leather dress.

Jean Yu black dress with straw adornment

The others found inspiration in a variety of textiles, sculptures, artwork, photography, and more. Gary Graham referenced a coverlet for his jacquard-engineered coat dress ensemble. Catherine Malandrino’s asymmetrical crochet handkerchief dress was inspired by an early 20th century Odd Fellow’s paper cut. John Bartlett’s creative juices got flowing when he spotted a late 19th century painted wood figure of a man in a green shirt and white suspenders- which led him to the whimsical green polka dot ensemble. Jean Yu found inspiration in a 20th century carved wood porcupine, the result of which is her straw adorned black chiffon dress.

Ronaldus Shamask and daughter Arianne
standing under his ensemble

Ronaldus Shamask was drawn to the “power and simplicity” of a 20th century James Castle drawing of a blue jacket for three kite shaped ensembles (they were actually suspended from the ceiling). Michael Bastian found divine inspiration in a painted wood carving of a man in a black suit and top hat, a weathervane, and two tenth anniversary tins items for his jacket, pants, top hat, and knit hood with earmuffs. Creatures of the Wind duo (Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters), conceived of their tight bodice dress, upon seeing Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s photograph of his wife (mid 20th century).  Bibhu Mohapatra’s organza dress with lace bodysuit was inspired by a tiny tattoo pattern book (1873- 1910). Yeohlee Teng used informal photographs she took of 4 animal wood carvings (20th century) for her Shamanistic Printed Prayer Flag Dress of Brown Kraft Paper.

John Bartlett next to his polka dot ensemble and sculpture inspiration

By the way, it was not lost on me that the Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square, is located right across the street from Lincoln Center, the current "home" of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. I left thinking, if only some of that some of the raw talent and creativity on view last night can find its way across the street when the fall winter 2014 collections begin.




-Marilyn Kirschner

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