Corsets, clothes and Photographs – Jean Paul Gaultier at the De Young

After months of meaning to, I finally made it to From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier.

Kate and I ventured through the wilds of the Sunset on Friday night and headed to the De Young. I lost my Sunset-native card by not bringing a jacket or a sweater with me, and froze a little bit on the walk from the N at 9th & Irving to the museum. But it was wonderful to see Kate, and to actually use the museum membership!

We got in right away, which was great, and the first tableau was quite impressive – a row of a dozen or so mannequins clothed in Gaultier’s impressive work against a vibrant blue background. And the shocker – the mannequin’s faces moved! Through projection, they spoke or sang or merely blinked their eyes. This created a disturbing and beautiful opening look at the collection.  According to the exhibit’s website, “Gaultier partnered with the Montreal-based theater company Ubu Compagnie de Création in the design of 30 animated mannequins who talk and sing in playful and poetic vignettes.”

It was wonderful to go to a special museum exhibition that was not afraid of cameras! I took some shots of my favorite things on my phone, but didn’t know ahead of time, so I didn’t have my DSLR.  I think that if the taking of pictures won’t damage the work, then it is something that should be allowed – it helps me to remember the exhibit better and show to others that they should go.Good job De Young!

There was a ton to see, and it was decently crowded, but not too overwhelming. (of course, I compare this to the sea of bodies at the Savage Beauty/Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met a couple of year’s back). There was a nice juxtaposition between the actual pieces, runway videos, and wonderful photographs of the work.

“Invitation to the the Dance” with Elena Sudakova.
Photo by Solve Sundsbo Gown by Jean Paul Gaultier, Pirates collection (2008)

Although I loved getting to see the detail on the pieces – all super impressive – I often found the photographs of people in Gaultier clothes much more interesting than the pieces themselves. As Kate said, clothes feel dead without a body inside them, and the photos are capturing that life. (I think that is also why the first room with the projected mannequins worked so well – it brought back some of that life).

Gaultier and Madonna’s collaboration was well documented:

Sketch of stage costumes for Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour (1990), “Dick Tracy” Segment

In addition to the sketches, they had lots of interesting pieces from their work together.

I liked this commentary on feminism and the corsets that Gaultier uses:

Unlike the eighteenth-century court corsets revived by his contemporary Vivienne Westwood, Gaultier’s corsets were born of the pin-up girls and movie queens of the 1950s. Gaultier’s women, though corseted, did not negate the feminist struggles of the 1960s and 1970s; rather they expressed a new female emancipation.  The liberation of this era and paradoxically established a new tyranny of beauty, one that imposed a new ideal of women – ultra thin, even desexualized. Pushing for a another redefinition of femininity, Gaultier excavated twentieth-century corsets and 1940s and 1950s waist-cinches out of his grandmother’s closet to create “underwear as outerwear” that celebrated a voluptuous feminine body, culminating in his modern classic, the cone bra.

Here is one of my favorite pieces from his more modern work:

Calligraphie gown, Cages collection

It is a great exhibition and runs for another two weeks. I recommend checking it out!

We finished our Friday with a lovely dinner at Nopalito. I highly recommend their Tamal de Queso Estilo Corunda. Super delicious!

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