Thursday, July 21, 2016


It's taken years for the Costume Institute at the Met to find its footing, becoming one of the most anticipated and talked about temporary exhibits on the museum's calendar. Theses exhibits now draw more visitors than almost any other category scheduled at the Met. Retrospectives of the world's greatest artists, assemblies of antiquities, exhibits devoted to cataloguing the art of specific parts of our world all are beginning to fall short of the record number of visitors coming to the costume shows.
This has all been helped by the red carpet gala event associated with the opening of these exhibits where celebrities and dignitaries plunk down $25,000 each to walk the red carpet and the event garners major coverage from a worldwide media. This year's exhibit, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, didn't disappoint.
I, in my pee-sized brain, didn't get the title at first. I thought it was going to have something to do with futuristic design, the type seen in all those sci-fi adventure films a genre that doesn't hold a lot of appeal for me. Even the name sounded a bit Mad Max to me. Here's where it pays to know you're Latin: Manus meaning hand and Machina meaning machine.
The exhibit is more an essay on haute couture that is made by hand as opposed to avant-garde ready-to-wear that is made by machine and where they intersect. The pieces shown were collected from the early 20th century to the present and include pieces made by both hand and machine with materials from traditional fabrics to 3D constructed plastic.
The show was moved from the Anna Wintour Gallery to the more prominent Robert Lehman galleries at the back of the first floor of the museum. From there the exhibit was segmented into categories like embroidery, beading, and feathers.
A prime example and the star of the show was a haute couture bridal gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Channel. The gown was made from scuba knit with a twenty-foot train that was first hand-painted with gold metallic paint, then machine printed with rhinestones and finally hand-sewn with pearls and gemstones.
It was a show-stopping example of integrating the handmade with machine-made. The big question from the woman standing next to me was, "Who wore this and how pregnant was she?"
The exhibit was another step in moving fashion away from being a trade and into being accepted as a true art form. I can't show every piece but here are some of the pieces that stopped me in my tracks.
The first section we went into behind the Channel wedding gown was devoted to feathers
I'm going to start with an evening dress from the House of Balenciaga's autumn/winter 1965-66 haute couture collection. This dress is a perfect place to start looking at how the machine work and hand-work have been used in one garment. The pink silk net was first sewn on a machine and then hand finished after which it was trimmed with hand-glued ostrich feathers.
This feathered evening dress by the House of Givenchy was presented the following year using a similar technique
Who knew rooster feathers could look so luxurious. You usually think of the exotic when you think about the use of feathers in fashion but here the lowly chicken has been taken to haute couture by Saint Laurent.
Embellishment was all over the place but nowhere so beautifully done as this machine-sewn white silk organdy dress by Prada with hand-embroidered opalescent plastic paillettes and clear beads
I went to the show along with my friend, Alice Hope, an amazing artist in her own right. Alice's works transform the mundane into the spectacular. This dress was reflective of her work done in a medium Alice has used before. Iris van Herpen, a Dutch artist, constructed this by hand-sculpting iron fillings using magnets to hold the filings in place until they could be coated in polyurethane resin to permanently freeze them into this amazing dress
Following the use of unconventional materials this dress by Alexander McQueen using a machine-sewn shell with an overlay of hand-embroidered red-orange glass beads, freshwater pearls, pieces of coral, and dyed shells.
Keeping with the maritime theme these dresses all have their inspiration taken from the sea. So much of design is taken from nature and the sea is a big source of inspiration; fish scales, shells, coral are visible
This was one of my favorite pieces, a dress created by 3-D printing out of epoxy. It was like an exquisite piece of coral turned into a dress that became a piece of art
I have no idea of how or if one's movement would be constrained by this cage like skirt also constructed by a 3-D printer. The ensemble by Christopher Kane was labeled as pret-a-porter from his 2013 collection.
I know "machina" means machine but the dress in the center actually has a "mechanical" devise that allows the skirt to both expand and contract. It all pointed to my confusion from the start with the labeling for this show: futuristic styling vs. production by machine
No show on fashion would be complete without the iconic Channel suit. The only thing is these suits all used 3-D constructed pieces as a part of their assemblage.
The way I started out was by going back in history to that point where the sewing machine came into the fashion construction process. In the applique section of the show Paul Poiret's winter coat from 1919 was shown with this very intricate hand-appliqued white kidskin cutwork and a fur neck wrap.
Flou is another term I learned from going to the show. It refers to a type of apparel know as soft meaning less structured, flowing and these dresses exemplify that concept.
This pret-a-porter suit by Thierry Mugler was probably a disappointment to anyone without a camera. When you looked at the suit with your naked eye it looked only like a suit made of black silk velvet with a massive amount of seaming but once you saw it through a photograph the seams became fluorescent stripes of the most extraordinary neon green
Pleating was another category and this dress by Israeli Noa Raviv took the technique and literally transformed it to art
The last section before hitting the gift store was leather and this jacket of hand-cut white leather boggles the mind by its extraordinary craftsmanship, a perfect match of manus x machina.

Dovima with Elephants, 1955
Richard Avedon, photographer
Represented by Gagosian Gallery, NYC

Friday, July 8, 2016


We had spent several hours that morning debating if we should take a little time off and if we did were would we go. On a perfect spring day in Wisconsin day trips are extremely hard to resist. A large part of Wisconsin's economy is tourist based. It's a state filled with small town and northern woods charm. For as long as we've been here we've barely touched  all the dots on our to-do list of regions, towns, and artist colonies we'd like to see. Granted we do have our favorites, those places we've been to more than once and will continue to visit but this time we decided to go to a destination we hadn't been to before. We set our GPS for the southwestern portion of Wisconsin, piled into the car, and hit the gas. There were two routes to Prairie du Chien that popped up: a northern track and a southern track both with some added towns along the way. We flipped a coin making our choice a choice of fate taking the northern route with the option of taking the southern route back.
The northern route was scenic but we weren't swayed into stopping anywhere along the route. Instead we drove straight to Prairie du Chien, the Mississippi River and the reason for going to Prairie du Chien - Villa Louis. We arrived just in time to see a flock of mischievous third graders all gathering around for the next tour of the estate. Trying to accompany thirty some screaming children on a one hour plus tour was more than we were willing to deal with.
The next tour was canceled because of a staffing shortage which meant we were better than two hours away from seeing what had been billed as the finest example of British Arts and Crafts interiors in a rural setting in the United States.
All the more reason to contemplate a return possibly in September when the town decks itself out in period attire and horse drawn carriages roam the grounds as the area recreates the Artesian Stock farm days of yore in their annual Villa Louis Carriage Classic event.
Giving up on the Villa we switched course and headed into town hoping to find a bustling tourist trade of shops and restaurants.
Prairie du Chien may not have been the best choice. The main street was quaint and serene, serene being the most aptly descriptive modifier. There was barely a shop to go into, the sidewalks gave you plenty of room since they were devoid of pedestrians
and the only place we felt comfortable going into for lunch was Pete's Hamburgers because it was the only place we could find that wasn't smoke filled, actually it had no inside seating at all. I do have to say that there's a good reason Pete's been open since 1909 and it's the hamburgers prepared on a sizzling grill and smothered in fried onions. As the menu demands you purchase them in quantities along with your drinks. We had at it and order a heaping order. You then get a choice of ketchup and/or two types of mustard and that's it. After wiping the grease from our chins we decided on heading across the Mississippi into Iowa to see if the scenery there was any better
The first Iowa town across the river is Marquette. It's a spit of a town that almost slips into the Mississippi while nestled into the sandstone cliffs on the western side of Ol' Man River. A great Victorian church that has long since lost its congregation sits on a rise leading to the top of the cliff. A cluster of antique stores makes up its downtown but most of them were still closed waiting for the tourist season to kick in.
The only thing hopping or more likely limping on was the Lucky Lady paddleboat casino permanently docked on Marquette's banks. Not being gamblers or at least not with our money we decided to gamble on one more town. It would be a one-mile journey south to McGregor.
McGregor made up for the shortcomings of Prairie du Chien and Marquette. It reestablished our belief in having pointed our car west. We knew we'd find a better Americana somewhere on this day trip. The first thing of note is a set of reproduction clapboard buildings on a brick street in front of a tiny triangular park.
The buildings claim an origin dating to 1857 but the real story probably puts them closer to a decade or two ago. Non-the-less, I can stomach a bit of recreated architectural history. It happens all over the world.
Even Italy has its Pienza, a Tuscan town built for Pope Pius II to represent an ideal Renaissance town well after the Renaissance had passed
On the other side of the park was a rare and used bookstore that we could have spent hours in. The prices indicated his sales were more likely from an Internet clientele than a local one.
One oddity that we hadn't seen outside the cliff dwellers of New Mexico was McGregor's similar solution to housing. The town doesn't have much room to expand onto. The cliffs that run along the Mississippi only left a thin strip of land for the town to build on before the fifty to sixty foot cliffs cut off further development. Some early settlers decided the way to go was to chisel their homes right into the cliff, or so we assumed. There were staircases leading to doors that appeared to be dwellings. This may also have been one way to avoid the flood waters that assult these riverside communities on a fairly frequent basis.
For some reason while the shops of Prairie du Chien and Marquette seemed to be fighting for survival the commerce in McGregor seemed to be doing fine.
Had we started here on our little day trip I think we would have spent a lot more time in McGregor exploring the antique shops, a passion and a curse for us, and the specialty shops lining the vaster main street.

By the time we reached the three-quarter point the open signs were being flipped to closed and we needed to start heading back to Madison. We now have the last quarter of Main Street to use as an excuse for returning.

Goldshlack Caddie, 1973
Will Brown, photographer
Represented by Laurence Miller Gallery

Thursday, June 30, 2016


It had been years since I've been to the Gay Pride Parade in New York. I remember the first few times I went I wasn't all that comfortable, not for myself, but the way sexual innuendo made the event not very palatable to a broader public. I always felt that if what we were striving for was acceptance the parade wasn't helping. It was titillating and exuberant but it seemed to reinforce the notion that being gay was only about sex.
Now that I've gotten so involved in producing this blog I'm continually on the outlook for design issues and events that I can write about. Since I was in New York last weekend for Pride Week I thought I'd head over to the parade. With Orlando just weeks ago it seemed important to show solidarity and strength in defying fear. I set out an hour and a half before the parade was scheduled to start and got a front row seat, well standing space, on Fifth Avenue between 31st and 32nd.
The mix of spectators lining the street on both sides was a bigger mix of genders, ages and families than I had remembered from before. The  screamers and gyrators were there, a lot of young men with gym acquired bare washboard abs and dykes in boots and muscle shirts but the majority where more like the kind of people you'd expect to line the street for a Fourth of July parade not the Gay Pride Parade. There were families and older people who had set up their folding chairs. Next to me on one side was a group of four women all way into their sixties. On the other side a clearly straight young couple his arms tightly wrapped around her from behind, he had picked up a rainbow flag she had tucked in her hair.
The parade began as I had remembered it had done in the past with the Dykes on Bikes but this time they did it with their tops on.
This was a relief, but what followed was the first thing to bring a lump to my throat, the Boy Scouts of America, leaders and boys of all ages carrying a hundred flags. It set a tone that although mixed with celebration was more pride than anything I'd felt before.
The next in line were those who had been around for the Stonewall riots still wearing their flamboyance and defiance and doing it with smiles rather than fear.
Then came the symbol so associated with the pride movement, the parade of balloons. Five columns of rainbow balloons held down by a cadre of volunteers cast another rainbow of light on the pavement as they marched down Fifth Avenue. It was as if they were turning the street into a cathedral, the balloons like stained glass windows spreading colored light and enlightenment through the sun from above.
Whereas last year's parade was such a celebration of the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage this year's parade had a more somber feel.
Even the recognition of the Stonewall becoming a national monument felt more about the struggle and less about the victory and recognition.
From there came real heartbreak as group after group paid homage to the Orlando forty-nine. There were cheers of encouragement to many of the groups that passed by but there was one in particular that stopped the crowd, lowered all the rainbow flags, and hushed everyone into total silence. Forty-nine men and women dressed in white each with a white veil obstructing their faces wore an image around their necks of each person killed at the Pulse. They walked in a slow cadence never acknowledging the crowd. You could hear a tear drop, the silence was so powerful.
Of course the politicians were there and the groups supporting those currently running for office were also there both on a national and local level. Bernie's kids led the way but clearly their numbers had dwindled.
Hillary's contingent stretched almost an entire block
and the Donald's never showed up.
What with Orlando so fresh on everyone's mind a new group had formed, Gays Against Guns. Given such little time to form between the shots and the parade it was amazing how many people were in the group and how well organized they were.
They would, as a group, walk about a half block and then on mass all collapse onto the ground and chant, "How many more!" The theatrics were riveting but the knowledge that this group might just have the organization and determination to become a leading force in actually getting gun control moved a step forward was something they made seem possible. This is one area, political action, where the gay culture knows the ropes and has the power and clout to get things done.
The next biggest surprise for me was the show of support and sponsorship coming from corporate America. In the past most sponsorship was local and then mostly from gay specific companies; mostly gay bars. Now the sponsorship was broad and in some cases astonishing. I think every major bank had a contingent. The tech world was also well represented perhaps because it has a relatively younger employee demographic
but what surprised me most was seeing a float from organizations I would have thought still harbored some homophobic undercurrents. I never expected to see Walmart pulling a float through the parade.
Or who would have guessed that a major sports organization, the NBA, would have had players dribbling down the street alongside a float baring their logo.
Of course the characters necessary for any gay parade were there as well but most were the equivalent to the clowns that accompany a circus parade. Their job was to amuse and let us laugh and smile but different from the past the smiles and laughter was with them not at them.
Then there were the police. This whole movement of acceptance of diversity and inclusion in the whole of humanity began with an u”Us against them" riot all the way back in 1969. The police were the enemy. It was evident that the truce had been signed. It was no longer an atmosphere where we feared men in blue, or having places where we gathered being raided or the thought that they might look the other when we were in harms way. It wasn't an atmosphere of fags being less than human.
This time there was complete trust that they were there to guard our safety as equals as brothers and sisters in an inclusive world. They were there as sentries of protection on the streets and not because they were required to but because they wanted to be there. They were there as our eyes against harm and they were there as musicians in a marching band and they were there as gays themselves and proud of it.
Just before I left and near the end of the parade. The Ackerman Institute's Gender and Family Project sponsored by Bank of America came down the street. They wore blue t-shirts with the words "Pride is for Kids Too" silk-screened on them. There were many  children either transgender or the children of gay parents marching in the parade. Then there was one little boy, I'd say he was around ten who walked along the edge of the route. He stopped to hug everyone in the crowd who'd lean across the barricade. I wish my picture could have been better but my hands were shaking too much.
Duo I, Mexico, 1990
Herb Ritts, Photographer
Represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery