Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ecotopia at the International Center of Photography

One of the reasons for my extended stay in New York is to see the art shows in town. On the top of my list was the International Center of Photography. And since I'm now a member at the Griffin Museum in Winchester, I get free admission. The current show at the ICP is a group show called Ecotopia on view through January 7, 2007. The biggest attraction for me to see this show was Catherine Chalmers, a photographer whose interest is primarily of ecology. I was introduced to her work by Ken, who gave me a copy of her book Food Chain. As I was doing some digging online just now, I found out that Chalmers' work can be seen at the current DeCordova exhibition Going Ape: Confronting Animals in Contemporary Art, on view until January 7th as well.

Ecotopia was one of the best photography shows I've seen. It showcases the work of 40 photographers around the theme of nature and our interactions with nature. Certainly there were subthemes that I expected -- the destructions of nature by humans. But there are also more subtle and neutral subthemes about the natural order of things in nature. Catherine Chalmers' exhibition piece turned out to be a short film rather than still photography. The film depicts a cockroach's emergence from a body of water, his journey through the woods, and eventually his demise by becoming prey to a frog.

I was also excited to find out that among the 40 participating in the show was Wang Qingsong. His website always seems to be too busy to load, and so I suspect he's doing very well. In an issue of Aperture Magazinen this year I had first seen Wang's work Come, Come, three staged images depicting waves of political protestors and the irony that they leave behind a mess of abandoned banners and other garbage--all this angry concern about China's polical future while neglecting the environment. Wang's work is full of irony and challenges herd mentality. He's one of the most refreshing contemporary Chinese artists who made his name known internationally. Most Chinese artists with international exhibits have a tendency to reinforce western stereotypes about China, while much of Wang's work is about Chinese identity and integrity in the face of globalization and commercialism.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006" at the MFA in Boston

I'm a few weeks behind on my blog, but here is my attempt to capture a few thoughts.

Being a member of the MFA, I had free tickets to the current exhibit, "Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006." Ken has no interest in fashion shows, and so I invited Sand T, who had been a fashion designer a one point in Malaysia, to come with me.

I couldn't tell what this show was about before I entered the Gund Gallery, and so I had very little expectation in mind. It really turned out to be literally a representation of the Fall/Winter collection of the Paris fashion show which took place in July, featuring ten designers: Azzedine Alaia, Hussein Chalayan, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Maison Martin Margiela, Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, Valentino, Viktor & Rolf, and Yohji Yamamoto.

There are a couple of things that struck me most about this exhibition. First, I had never thought of fashion as fine art, but what really is fine art? After all, there are those who argue that photography is not fine art. Does it really matter? Not to be cynical, but I suppose it becomes fine art if a curator at the MFA decides to call it fine art. Admittedly, some of these pieces are truly works of art. One of the solid silver-plated wedding dresses by Viktor & Rolf looks more like a sculpture or an armor. Some of the Chanel dresses literally feature hundreds of hours of hand-sewn sequin work. But this is in line with the

Secondly, the last display screen right before the exit scrolling Q & A about fashion shows, most of which were specifically about the haute couture Paris fashion shows, was wonderful as an educational tool. I read my share of Vogue in my early twenties, but I had never known that haute couture was a official class of designers designated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture of the French government. Upon knowing this, I couldn't help but snickered a bit. Of course the French government would regulate this as they would wines. And unless you're really in tune with the fashion industry, you're going ask the question: Do people really wear some of this stuff? The simple answer is: if there is a demand. Fashion buyers, the press, and celebrities are the main audience of the fashion shows. If there is a demand from the buyers, the designers would be willing to make them into ready-to-wear.

As a personal response, my favorite collection was the Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, which feautures an updated version of the industrial Victorian look--consisting of gray and black ensembles that I can see myself wearing if I had the money. I really don't like the John Galliano for Christian Dior collection as wearable items -- to which Sand T remarked, "People are not wearing these clothes; these clothes are wearing people. There's no respect for the human body." The idea of this collection is supposed to be an edgy combination of the Marquis de Sade and the French Revolution inspired by Hollywood. I found the execution of it heavy-handed, gimmicky, and pretentious. Dresses are imprinted or embroidered with the face of Marie Antoinette and words like egalité and liberté were strewn all over fabric. And, of course, there was plenty of black leather.

All in all, I like the show. But I can't help but dwell on my ever-persisting dichotomy between commercial and fine art. I am uncomfortable when others point out this distinction in the field of photography, but I do it myself. Bad habit. I have to remind myself that it really doesn't matter as long as I like it.

Here are some other interesting links about this show: http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1124/p11s01-alar.html