Hardcover(1st ed)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780896596641
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/1992
Edition description: 1st ed
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 10.95(w) x 13.29(h) x 1.54(d)

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A form of body adornment that celebrates personal expression, art to wear is as richly varied and unpredictable as the individuals who create it. By its very nature, the art to wear movement defies definition. The pieces conform to no established set of aesthetic criteria. They may be baroque or minimalist, rigid as a suit of armor or fluid as a cascade of water, visually voluptuous or graphically abrasive. But they are each distinguished by an intensity of personal content. They are about the artists who created them, unabashedly autobiographical, signaling an eruption of personal information from private spaces. They speak of vulnerability, innocence, discovery, joy, pain, sensuality, outrage, celebration--always with a vitality of emotion rarely found in adornment. These works are the physical embodiment of interior worlds and intangible ideas.

It is this insistence on personal iconography that distinguishes the contemporary art to wear movement from other forms of body adornment past and present. Throughout history, fashion has concerned itself with received roles or images externally imposed. Primitive man, intuiting the magical properties of adornment, imbued the garment with powers of transformation and evocation. But even these artifacts express universal rather than personal symbols. Personal content is the focus, not cultural convention, social image, or innovation of silhouette.

There are precedents for artists turning their attention to clothing, costume, and textiles to explore the aesthetics of color, design, and form and to make social commentary. The dawn of the "modern age," coinciding with widespread social upheaval during the early part of thiscentury, triggered creative activity that found expression in all forms of the decorative arts, including costume. Mariano Fortuny symbolically and literally liberated the female form by draping it in painstakingly dyed, printed, and pleated fabrics that reveal the natural sculptural lines of the body. Like Sonia Delaunay and Raymond Duncan, he established his own textile-printing workshop, translating his art into terms of fabric and fashion.

Jean Cocteau, Fernard Leger, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Erte variously collaborated in creating costumes and set designs for theatrical productions. Raoul Dufy, who exerted great influence on twentieth-century textile design, conceived exquisite embroideries and other fabrics under the auspices of Paul Poiret and Bianchini-Ferier. The elegant gowns of Charles James are unsurpassed feats of architectural engineering. Sonia Delaunay's theories of simultaneous color found expression in garments viewed as "living paintings or sculptures," the color rhythms of which created the illusion of movement. Certain of the Russian Constructivist artists, including Rodchenko and Stepanova, turned their attention to clothing.

Yet nowhere and at no time has the garment been used to express personal imagery as poignantly and joyfully as during the past two decades. Never before have the roles of artist, designer, and craftsman been so fully assumed by a single individual in control of his creation from conception through completion. The works of this movement testify to the intimacy of a lengthy process; months, even years, are lavished on a garment. Nevertheless, these artworks speak of innovation and spontaneity, a direct flow of energy through the hands of the artist to the object of his creation.

While the relation between creator and creation is extraordinarily intimate in these diverse works, the pieces are not irreducibly individualistic but, rather, hauntingly kindred in spirit, the fruit of a unique sociological climate and a cultural soil fertile enough to sustain the evolution of a new species. In some other time and place, work of this nature would not--could not--have existed.

The earliest of the mature pieces appeared in the late 1960s, in a kind of spontaneous combustion. From East to West coasts there emerged centers of creativity in which serious attention was focused on the body as a vehicle to animate and display imagery. Over the course of the decade, a generation emerged that felt a need to relearn the traditional crafts, to make contact with a heritage, with roots, that wanted to slow down and create objects of lasting beauty to reflect its own worth in a frenetic, throwaway society.

It was the "new generation" Charles Reich identified in The Greening of America. Confronted by arbitrarily imposed life-styles that stripped the individual of his uniqueness, dreams, imagination, instinct, spontaneity, that split working life from home life--producing cultural schizophrenia defined by lack of "wholeness"--the generation that came of age in the sixties revalued its values and established a new set of priorities. Preservation of humanity through quality of living set the tone for the decade.

Out of this climate emerged the contemporary crafts revival, in many ways akin to the nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement fathered by William Morris. Both endeavors were anti-industrial responses to the infection of mediocrity that spread from the inhuman wound of rampant industrialization. Both movements addressed creative excellence, an integrity of design evolving from a natural and wholesome life-style, and a restructured morality. Both movements ultimately made something of a truce with technology, incorporating it into the creative process and thereby reflecting an openness to the changing environment and a willingness to seek beauty in the most unlikely places. But the sanctity of the individual and his right to self-expression--his need for it--is unique to the contemporary movement.

Loosed from what was perceived as constricting, artificial demands on their lives, the new generation also released itself from the anonymous, restrictive, and unnatural clothing of the fifties. In coming to terms with "self," advocating a "wholeness," an integration of "who I am, what I do, and how I feel," this generation came to a new awareness of the body. People newly in touch with their individuality celebrated the body, adorning it with richly embellished expressions of personal identity.

The most deeply revealing quality of this work is, therefore, its rich sensuality. Particularly in garments of the earlier years, there is an unyielding, almost voluptuous physicality epitomized by the crochet work in which luxuriant texture seems to have seduced the artists as surely as it engulfs the wearer. The sensuality of the aesthetic goes hand in hand with a concern for the preservation of the environment, a reverence for nature as the source of life. In many of the pieces, this is reflected by an earth palette, the use of natural, nonsynthetic materials, and by imagery derived from the plant and animal kingdom. Delight in the natural cycles of life and death, commitment to the preservation of nature in spite of society's skewed priorities--these are recurrent themes. Titles of garments are telling: The Whole Earth Tapestry, Orchid Jacket, Fungus Jacket, Flamingo, Swamp Coat, Tulip Kimono, Cactus Coat, Monkey Cup Dress, Trout-Magnolia Kimono, Garden Triptych, Nocturnal Moth, Snake Jacket, Midnight Urchin, Strawberry Jacket, Aerial Roots Kimono, Lizard Wizard, Crow Visor.

As the art to wear movement has evolved over the past two decades, there has been a decided shift in aesthetic from the organic sensuality of the late sixties to the more hard-edged graphic surface of the eighties. Palettes have become brighter and more stark; imagery increasingly refined to essentials. Recent years have also seen a greater openness to the materials and tools of a technological society.

Yet the inspirations and priorities of the movement, born in the sixties, have remained consistent. Much of the morality of that decade was based on rejection of established--artificial--values: the imperative to pioneer new ideas, media, and aesthetics is ingrained in the movement. The garments are further characterized by a standard of excellence--painstaking, compulsive, uncompromising--that derives from an unwavering commitment to creative integrity, a concern with process. The artists frequently speak about the "needs" of the piece, the emotional and physical toll exacted to achieve "wholeness" in a work, to give it independent life.

The garment is meant to live on its own terms, but as art integrated into life. The artists presented here share an innate distrust of the elitist Western attitude that exclusively defines contemplative, nonfunctional creative expressions as "art," to be viewed in museums or galleries safely isolated from daily life. The act of physically enveloping oneself in an artwork joins art and life symbolically and literally. Perhaps this explains why so many of the artists working in this field have found inspiration in the Eastern cultures and so-called primitive societies, which do not divide art from craft, artistic expression from daily life.

For those of us who envelop ourselves in the expression of another individual's hands and heart, it is certainly the sharing in a noble and privileged creation. It is to borrow the words of the poet, the vision of the artist, the voice of the diva. It is an extraordinary experience.

Table of Contents





Dina Knapp, Jean Williams Cacicedo, Janet Lipkin, Marika Contompasis, Sharron Hedges, Arlene Stimmel, Nicki Hitz Edson, Susanna Lewis, Dione Christensen, Linda Mendelson, Amy Rothberg-Rogers, Jacquelyn Roesch-Sanchez, Norma Minkowitz, Lannie Hart, Randall Darwall, Arlene Kirstein, Danielle Ray, Geraldine Millham


Raoul Spiegel, Paul Johnson, Joan Ann Jablow, Eliot Smith, Bill Cunningham, Renee DeMartin, Anne Kingsbury, J. Pearson, Joe Barth, Jane Kosminsky


Jamie Summers, Whitney Kent, Sheila Perez, Susan Nininger, Mario Rivoli, Ken Tisa, Lee Dickson, Anna Polesny, Billy Shire, Mark Mahall, Frank Shipman, Carol Motty, K. Lee Manuel, Nina Vivian Huryn


Priscilla and Valerie Snyder, Norma Rosen, Cate Fitt, Gayle Fraas & Duncan Slade, JoEllen Trilling, Katherine Westphal, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Ina Kozel, Julia Hill, Marian Clayden, Ben Compton, Tim Jocelyn, Judy Knipe, Susan Middleman, John Klimo, Tim Harding, Risë Nagin, Joan Steiner




Author Biography: Julie Shafler Dale established the first gallery devoted to clothing as an art form in 1973. The gallery, located in New York City, remains the country's foremost showcase of wearable art.

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