When the impossibly pretty interns with headsets, the even prettier cocktail waiters dressed in form-fitted black, and the perfectly-coiffed fashionista guests came into view, Louis Vuitton’s second edition of Art TALKS seemingly couldn’t resemble a rigorous, critical treatise on postmodern theory or aesthetics; more likely it was a prelude to Fashion’s Night Out weekend in Miami. Yet, thanks to the eloquence and passionate rhetoric from guests of honor Vik Muniz and Gringo Cardia (director of Rio de Janeiro-based arts and technology school SPECTACULU), the importance and potential of social activism twinned with an unshakable contemporary art practice was reasserted.
Treading the line between haute couture and contemporary art often presumes a shameless emphasis on micro-economics, where corporate politics overshadow the fundamental, ‘non-commodified’ questions of relational aesthetics. That very line has been blurred to the point of seamless integration with ‘studio’ artists consistently called upon to lend intellectual gravitas to qualify the meta-market framework. In this case, however, Muniz effortlessly hovers over the down-to-the-stitch demands of a global Maison. Muniz collaborated on Vuitton’s newest installation with students from SPECTACULU for almost two years. The final product, a sculpture and video installation entitled ‘Innumerable’, is stationed within the label’s Aventura boutique. The sculpture is anchored to a mirrored base comprised of 23 individual LV logos draped in printed canvases, each created by Muniz and the Brazilian students. In the background, mounted on a deep black wall, images of the famous logo fashioned out of gold clasps, zippers, leather straps and buttons flash at furious, schizophrenic speeds.
Louis Vuitton’s North American CEO Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet introduced Muniz and Cardia, both sincerely describing the experience of working with at-risk youth in Rio, coming together from different sectors of the city often controlled by rival, armed militias of the narco traffickers. Muniz pointedly spoke to those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the perilous layout of the harbor city: warring factions of drug gangs often overwhelm the Brazilian armed forces, putting the slums’ residents directly in harm’s way. ‘If you lived in one favela,’ Muniz explains, ‘and you wanted to visit your mother who lived across the city in a different favela, if those two were controlled by rival gangs you couldn’t even cross town to visit your own mother.’ Students of the SPECTACULU program, Cardia elaborated, ‘come from all over the city, when on a normal day they might be shooting at each other.’ Each year, a select group of students (each on a $100 USD scholarship) are called to the program to be trained in set design, computer animation, sculpture and other fine art disciplines. In essence, this project elevated the presence of intensely perceptive, vibrant arts students (who don’t have the luxury of SCAD, RISD, Bard or any degree of formalized education) ‘who are able to comment intelligently on desire, luxury, possession and what Louis Vuitton might mean to them,’ says Muniz. Chapoulaud-Floquet added at the talks’ conclusion, ‘this can act as a positive model for both international fashion houses and others arts programs. This engages the dialogue. And we felt that Miami is already a cultural playground, it was a perfect setting.’
If contemporary art causes us to, somehow, reexamine our own perspectives on what is desirable or excessive and simultaneously illuminates non-profit initiative, hasn’t the aesthetic already been addressed? In classic fashion, the 157-year old couturier’s partnership with active members of the contemporary art community proves its ability to adapt to nearly every sector of the popular consciousness. This thoroughly self-aware discussion between artist and activist did just that, captivating an audience sprinkled with Miami’s arts and fashion glitterati.
Shana Beth Mason is a critic formerly based in Brooklyn now active in London, UK. Contributions include Art in America, ArtVoices Magazine, FlashArt International, InstallationMag (Los Angeles), Kunstforum.as (Oslo), The Brooklyn Rail, The Miami Rail, San Francisco Arts Quarterly (SFAQ), and thisistomorrow.info (London).
view all articles from this author