Organic mixture of Fashion + Folk Art at the American Folk Art Museum
Funny faces and quilted tapestries fill my pre-conceived notion of folk art--until a first visit to the American Museum of Folk Art's Folk Couture: Fashion & Folk Art exhibit last week. On display from January 17th until April 23rd are couture creations from 13 of America's notable designers, alongside the art from the Museum's collections that inspired the designs. For the exhibit, "designers were asked to create a garment that would reference the richness, the spontaneity, and, in some cases, the appealing strangeness of folk art" [Alexis Carreño, guest curator]. The pairing of pieces by folk artists and modern fashion designers draws surprising parallels towards expressionism, entertainment and an enriched lifestyle. Beyond the astute posture of the mannequins and the somber palette of grey, white and mauve, a clearly artisanal and endearing uniqueness surrounds spectators.
David Alverez Porcupine (L), Jean Yu The Animal Human Dress (R)
Unlike its fine art counterpart, folk art marries aesthetics and applied functionality, forging a bond between pretty and practical. Folk art by nature lacks a level of refinement, while fine art hinges on visual appeal,incorporates a measure of skilled training and often turns a blind eye to utilitarian opportunities. Any keen observer of folk art will notice its inclusivity--cultivating creativity without a pedestal for celebrity.
Yeohlee Teng Shamanistic Printed Prayer Flag Dress of Brown Kraft Paper
Leading into the exhibit, the introductory signage reads "FASHION IS CANNIBALISTIC. In its attempt to capture the essence of the present--a moment in permanent flux, fashion steals images and concepts from a varied range of disciplines….Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art draws on a long conversance between folk art and fashion…but it is not a survey of fashion in folk art" [Alexis Carreño, guest curator]. Neatly arranged, the space is divided into 4 sections: Pattern (Chadwick Bell, Fabio Costa, Gary Graham, Catherine Malandrino, threeASFOUR), Narrative (Creatures of the Wind, Bibhu Moohapatra), Disembodiment (John Bartlett, Ronaldus Shamask) and Playfulness (Michael Bastian, Yeohlee Teng, Koos van der Akker, Jean Yu).
Catherine Malandrino Handkerchief Dress (front), Tree of LIfe Whitework Quilt (back)
Within Pattern, Catherine Malandrino, Fabio Costa and Chadwick Bell create a triumvirate of purity with their use of white fabrics. Bell references Greek and Roman sculpture and incorporates cornucopias while Costa models his design with the golden ratio/rectangle. Malandrino attributes her patterning to the delicacies of paper cutting. With an element of color, threeAS FOUR constructs a laser-cut floral leather piece layering the six-pointed star of David, the 4 pointed Christian star and the 5 pointed Islamic star. Gary Graham translates the snowball and star pattern on a 19th century coverlet into an intricately woven jacquard piece. Read more about the artists [here].
Friendship Star Quilt of the 1840s (back), threeASFOUR Amity Dress (laser-cut flower print leather-front)
Narrative imparts a personal story by designers Creatures of the Wind and Bibhu Mohapatra. Mohapatra finds inspiration in a tattoo book, envisioned to be a sailor's. His dress of aquamarine organza mimic waves and black flour-de-lis lace bodysuit allude to tattoos. Creatures of the Wind stumbled on photographs that artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein took of his wife, Marie. Referencing a pinup-like photograph of Marie, Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters create a simple bi-color dress with palm leaf accents.
Michael Bastian untitled
Perhaps the most conceptual of the themes, Disembodiment features fashion that pushes limits. John Bartlett's elongated green polka-dot jumper defies the rigid parameters of menswear by experimenting with scale. Channeling complexity through simplicity, a simple drawing of a blue jacket by artist James Castle materializes into 3 dresses, hung like kites, at the hand of designer Ronaldus Shamask.
Creatures of the Wind dress (L), Koos van den Akker Gown (R)
With lighthearted charisma, Playfulness features 4 elegant pieces without the seriousness of commercialism as defined by fashion. A sculpted man with a black top hat plays muse to Michael Bastian's ensemble, which serves as a modern representation of 1860s America. Yohlee Teng's Kraft paper shift dress includes photographs of animals taken from an artist's perspective. Though fragile, the dress appeals to the child inside each of its viewers. Painting with fabrics is the signature of Koos van den Akker. His design, embellished with sequins is inspired by 5 colorful vintage folk paintings. Black and straw are commonalities between Porcupine and Jean Yu's Animal Human Dress. Her chiffon dress is meant to be simultaneously playful and sexy.
Chadwick Bell Paisley and Cornucopia Gilet (quilted cotton with oxford cloth trim)
If you happen to be uptown for fashion week activities, it's worth swinging by the ground level exhibit (@ 2 Lincoln Center/66th St.) in between shows. Museum admission is free ($5 suggested donation). Be sure to read the exhibit cards! Click the links for additional information on the museum [here], the exhibit [here] and artist talks related to the exhibits [here].
The creative process…
Entry display showcasing wares from the gift shop