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The Greatest Show on Earth Opens at Bellevue


BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON.- Bellevue Art Museum announces Fashion: The Greatest Show on Earth, an innovative, high-tech exhibition that looks at fashion as an art form combining fashion design, video installation, photography and performance art. The exhibition will remain on view through August 31, 2003. Organized by BAM and curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan, the exhibition will travel to additional venues following its presentation at BAM. Sponsors of the exhibition are The Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Fashion Group International. A special issue of Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture with essays covering diverse topics related to fashion and performance, will serve as the exhibition catalog. Drawing on inspirations as varied as political activism, performance art of the 1960s and 70s, Fluxus and Dada performances, theater and popular culture, many contemporary fashion houses have completely transformed the runway show. What results is a new hybrid of performance art that is almost completely removed from the traditionally commercial aspects of the clothing industry.
This exhibition will explore the recent development of a fashion/performance hybrid under five major categories: SPECTACLE, SUBSTANCE, SCIENCE, STRUCTURE and STATEMENT. Each category will examine the specific references to various manifestations of performance art, emphasizing the inability to comfortably segregate art and fashion. Is it a catwalk show or a happening? Is it a dress or a sculpture? At many points throughout history, art and fashion have shared a symbiotic relationship in which each discipline simultaneously inspires, encourages and competes with the other. As early as the 1930s, collaborations between artists and couturiers reinforced this connection to the point where the boundary between the two worlds was creatively blurred. These individual relationships result in the production of a garment that exists as documentation of the unusual partnership. More recently, these associations have extended beyond intimate pairings to include entire collections inspired by artists. The late 1990s mark a significant point in this development of a heightened art / fashion phenomenon that is more far reaching in its effect, as it results in fashion show productions that communicate through the medium of performance art.
The Artists/Designers: Work by Miguel Adrover, Elena Bajo, Hussein Chalayan, Susan Cianciolo, Bella Freud, John Galliano (signature collection for Christian Dior), Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, Alexander McQueen (signature collection and for Givenchy); Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake, Red or Dead, Viktor & Rolf, Karen Walker and Junya Watanabe are included in the exhibition. Stills of performances used are by artists Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, Joan Jonas, Robert Kushner, Suzanne Lacy, Kristin Lucas, Paul MacCarthy, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Jena Sterbak, Hannah Wilte and Robert Wilson.
The Exhibition
SPECTACLE
The design of the SPECTACLE section of the exhibition will feature special footage captured at four strategic points within the Fall 2001 Alexander McQueen show. Each of the four views (the preparation, the runway, the audience and the participants) along with a sound recording will become part of a simulated runway experience. Designer shows that fall into the category of spectacle are related to theater and opera, as well as feature films and music videos. As with stage performance, shows created by designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen feature far more than garments. In most cases, they read as mini dramas, complete with characters, specific locations, related musical scores and recognizable themes.
SUBSTANCE
The design of the SUBSTANCE section will highlight the idea behind the collection by tracing its development from concept to performance to collection. Designers such as Hussein Chalayan and Viktor& Rolf (Viktor Hosting and Rolf Snoeren) are emphasizing process over product. For these designers, the concept behind a season remains central to the understanding of each garment and results in fashion shows that are related to rituals or happenings by Joseph Beuys and Ann Hamilton. Their focus on concept, process and ritual invests their garments with a deeper significance not unlike the way that Beuys’ felt suits are connected to a personal mythology.
SCIENCE
Junya Watanabe and Issey Miyake are known for their intense attention to the technology of fabric and clothing construction techniques. Continually pushing the boundaries of fashion with the science of materials - these designers emphasize the function of clothing. This interest is evident in their fashion shows, which reveal the influence of early video performances by artists like Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik and Vito Acconci. These artists as well as science designers utilize technology as a break from the confines of traditional art making and recognize the physical process as the actual work. The design will incorporate a "touch/feel" component giving visitors examples of fabric advances first-hand. Video clips will accompany the actual swatches or garments from the related performance.
STRUCTURE
Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons and Martin Margiela have long been praised for their unique approach to clothing construction and their commitment to form over function. Both designers rely on simple shows to reveal their designs to the industry, often treating the convention as a necessary evil. Structure designers’ creations can often be read as sculpture, even though the garments are meant to be seen in flux, making performance a significant part of the design and show. The concern is always the shape and design of the clothing, resulting in shows that take their cues from the performances of Rebecca Horn and Jana Sterbak. The design will also focus on form by treating the STRUCTURE section as a landscape. The garments will be hung rather than displayed on mannequins, reinforcing their sculptural associations. A choreographed video of the garments being performed by a model will serve as the backdrop for the space.
STATEMENT
Drawing on the politically charged performances of the 1970’s, designers such as Susan Cianciolo, Miguel Adrover, and Elena Bajo stage fashion shows that are loaded with statements of social commentary. More esoteric than the productions of their couture contemporaries’ these fashion shows are more like public protests commenting on subjects as far reaching as fur, body image and the fashion industry as a whole. Drawing on the humorous aggression employed by the Guerilla Girls, the confrontational nature of performances by Adrian Piper and the anxious violence voice of Chris Burden’s video work, the statement designers create environments and presentations that reflect their views. The design will borrow from their tactics by setting a confrontational mood, complete with sound recordings and video from select shows.
Bellevue Art Museum has collaborated with OpenOffice to develop a design scheme for the exhibition.






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