Art design

Museum of Arts and Design exhibition explores the international language of clothing

Clothing: costume as contemporary art is the first global survey devoted to the use of clothing as a visual art medium. To see at Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York until August 14, 2022, this critically acclaimed exhibition brings together more than 60 works by 35 international artists – including Nick Cave, Kent Monkman, Louise Bourgeois and Mary Sibande – who create clothing, sculpture, installation and artistic performances that transform the dress into an essential tool. Adopted globally as an artistic strategy, the garment uses the language of fashion to challenge traditional divisions of form and function, take a critical look at the construction of gender, advance activism politics and addressing cultural differences.

The garment emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Its rise is tied to performance art, as garments used in installations are often used as costumes in live and video performances. The practice rose to prominence during the 1990s, flourishing alongside the emerging effects of globalization. With a focus on craftsmanship and the unique object, the garment has been embraced worldwide by artists seeking ways to respond to the blurring of socio-economic boundaries, cultures and identities in the 21st century. While some of the works on display celebrate the hybridization of cultures, others protest against the disappearance of regional and ethnic traditions and communities – and many do both simultaneously. Whatever their point of view, all the practices of these artists have been shaped by transnational creative — and commercial — exchanges.

Installation view of Clothing: costume as contemporary art at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York (March 12 to August 14, 2022) (photo by Jenna Bascom)

Clothing is organized around five interrelated themes. “Functionality” presents works that blur the line between fashion, which traditionally has a practical function, and art, which traditionally does not. “Cultural Difference” focuses on works that explore the relationship between clothing and cultural, racial and ethnic identities. “Gender” explores how gender and sexuality are interpreted through clothing. “Activism” examines how artists use clothing to draw attention to how political violence affects individual bodies. “Performance” features artists who critically engage with costume through live and video performance. Live performances taking place during the exhibition include Enoch Cheng: Handle with care June 9 and jaamil olawale kosoko: black body amnesia July 7.

Clothing: costume as contemporary art is curated by Alexandra Schwartz, New York-based art historian, curator, and adjunct professor at SUNY’s School of Graduate Studies | Institute of Fashion Technology.

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An installation of Zoe Buckman’s embroidered vintage lingerie (photo by Jenna Bascom)
jaamil olawale kosoko, “Chameleon (a visual album)” (2020), video (photo by Jenna Bascom)

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