Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Down to Skin and Bones

5 March 2007 (early a.m.)

I had to revisit the Skin + Bones show at MOCA before it closed despite the fact that I didn’t think it really made a convincing presentation of its thesis. Frankly, I’m not too sure about the thesis itself. On its face, it struck me as being simply an amplification of the influential Susan Sidlauskas MIT show, “Intimate Architecture,” which Brooke Hodge more or less directly acknowledges in the catalogue for the show. Sidlauskas contributed an essay to the catalogue (which I haven’t had a chance to read); though, as I wandered through the show again, it occurred to me that the show would simply give her more material to expand upon her own original thesis. It occurred to me that the impulse for such a show came from the fashion designers and retailers themselves, much more than the architects and architectural firms included in the show: in other words, the fashion houses’ desire to showcase, to exhibit their goods in a way that would be both consistent with the house’s overall design statement (to the extent that’s even possible), while simultaneously reinforcing brand identity for the houses – what the always-changing couture lines are the loss-leading/frontline advertising for. There are a few exceptions: e.g., Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Herzog & De Meuron, OMA/Rem Koolhaas, and a few other firms who have extended their design initiatives beyond the scope of free-standing structures and into art and promotional installations, conceptual projects, and temporary spaces and design motives. (The Foreign Office designs bore interesting parallels, I thought, to Isabel Toledo’s design m.o. – but you didn’t really see it here.) Otherwise, the more interesting pairings/parallels of fashion and architecture were borne out in retail spaces: e.g., Toyo Ito’s sublime design for Tod’s big Omotesando store in Tokyo, Herzog & De Meuron’s Prada Epicenter in Tokyo (to say nothing of the Koolhaas flagships in SoHo and Beverly Hills). Hodge makes a somewhat tendentious case for London’s Future Systems design for Selfridge’s – which of course is an absolutely fantastic design, not without a few analogues to the business it’s housing and promoting, at least conceptually. But there you are: it’s a RETAIL space, darling.

There was a lot of other interesting architecture that you don’t see or hear a lot of (e.g., Greg Lynn) – but I didn’t think it made the analogical leap here. But who bloody CARES? There was just so much FANTASTIC STUFF EVERYWHERE. And then – as I’ve said many times before, it’s the discoveries and rediscoveries that count. It was great to see the Toledos – or here, essentially Isabel Toledo – who’s a design genius on the order of Vionnet (I would KILL to have that caterpillar dress – or any of half a dozen other things), and seriously under-represented/reproduced in the fashion press. And you can forget about analogies – YOU DON’T NEED ANY – Ralph Rucci’s designs for his Chado line are museum-class straight off the runway. (I mean that as a compliment – not museum-dead or archaic – they breathe, respire, inspire. They LIVE as the masterpieces they are – no different from the Balenciagas that inspired him – no different from the Velasquez Meninas that inspired Balenciaga.) It’s a rare thing and everyone should get to see it even if they can’t all afford to wear it.

MORE TO COME -- also about last night's PAINTING.

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