White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart curated by Anthony Elms
Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
(through July 28th)
by Noah Becker
Anthony Elms is one of the three curators of the 2014 Whitney Biennial. In addition to this distinction Elms is an associate curator at ICA Philadelphia. As opposed to focusing on his upcoming Whitney curatorial outing, I decided to explore White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart, a major exhibition curated by Elms at ICA Philadelphia. Elms has organized a kind of focus on the meeting point between fashion and art. Instead of taking on the role of another “Fashion as art'' exhibition as seen in several recent blockbuster museum shows, White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart finds subtle aspects of fashion geared for the daily use of the artist. The mood of fashion also permeates the two-dimensional and video works in the show. White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart is a specific portrait of a certain aspect of contemporary art and a kind of art as fashion exhibition. Much of the learning and expansion on the exhibition's theme is accomplished through Elms choosing works from contrasting mediums. Contemporary art can be about fashion yet still fly below commercial or pop cultural radar, this exhibition explores this notion and other ideas. To gain more insight on Anthony Elms curatorial process I visited the exhibition at ICA Philadelphia.
Noah Becker: This painting is by a European artist showing in New York? I recognize the style.
Anthony Elms: She does show in New York, she shows in London as well, her name is Paulina Olowska, she's Polish and based in Poland and she shows with Metro Pictures in New York. She has also done performances and photo books, kind of small artist books.
Becker: How did you come to include her work in "White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart"?I'm assuming you gravitated towards the fashion element in here work?
Elms: She has things that have kind of floated around fashion for a while. She had a show in a gallery in Cologne where she cut up paintings to turn into dresses then showed the cut up paintings and the dresses on manikin forms. She had a show a couple years ago at Metro Pictures that are paintings about sweaters, maybe not all of the work was about sweaters but I really liked this show which also featured paintings and a lot of the ephemera she used.
Becker: Her work has the mood of a time period, perhaps the 1970s? There is a dated feeling to the subject matter of her paintings.
Elms: Yes, these are drawn from reproductions that were circulated in Poland that were meant to be high fashion when Poland was still communist. Not only do I love them as paintings but I also love that they don't seem quite like us, we can sense something a little off, a bit different. The idea of trying to take down something fashionable that's not exactly high fashion.
Becker: Other things in this show like the Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin video have something more of a current fashion sense about them.
Elms: True, but I didn't want the show to be high fashion in capital letters. People always find it easy to dismiss fashion with a capital “F” as being trifle but there's a range of things from high fashion and low fashion to costume that are interesting in this context. There are videos that Inezand Vinoodh have made for YSL. There's also video directed by Sara Burton for Alexander McQueen from last year.
Becker: The “fashion as art” thing comes to mind in the case of McQueen. “White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart” does not strike me as a “fashion as art” exhibition but aspects of art intersecting with fashion. What is your perception of exhibitions such as Alexander McQueen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, do you see it as a trend?
Elms: Well, it is a trend but there was a huge flash of it maybe in the mid 90s of artist working on ads. Cindy Sherman did a series of ads.
Becker: And recently Cindy Sherman and Richard Phillips did the MAC cosmetics campaign.
Elms: Yes, there is a new trend, it comes and goes. Certainly in this show I didn't include people being influenced by the industry, I tried to feature works in White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart that were not directly identified as fashion. To find some artists who use fashion but go more in depth was the goal. I wanted to select works that were not directly identified with fashion, to select artists who used fashion intelligently in a deep way in their work.
Becker: The “Gothic Futurism” of the RAMM∑LLZ∑∑ masks are an interesting addition.
Elms: What I like about the RAMM∑LLZ∑∑ is these masks are things he actually lived with and wore, both when he was performing and on a day to day basis. If you think of people saying haute culture isn't for the streets it's kind of frivolous and only seen on the runway and it doesn't go “out into the world” I would respond by saying there art artists who have made things that are quite fantastical that they have meant for the street and for their day to day life. This isn't exactly about the "fantastical" versus the "real" but the two combine each and every day.
Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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