vanitas: fashion and art
Curated by Harold Koda, the celebrated Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Vanitas: Fashion and Art examines the theme of vanitas, as expressed by avant garde ready-to-wear and haute couture fashion alongside contemporary artworks. Traditionally used to refer to a type of still life painting popular in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, the term ‘vanitas’ has become more generally associated with art that meditates on the ephemeral character of earthly pleasures and worldly accomplishments, and highlights the fragility of our desires in the face of the inevitability of death. Today, a number of artists address similar themes across a range of media. Moreover, with its accelerated cycle of obsolescence, explicit manifestation of status and material success, and potential for narcissistic self-regard, fashion is a particularly apt medium through which to explore the exhibition’s central theme.
Vanitas artworks usually incorporate particular types of imagery that allude to the transience of life, such as fruits, flowers, insects and mirrors, as well as often including more explicit representations of ‘memento mori’ (reminders of death), such as skulls. Works featuring these themes include Jason Salavon’s Still Life (Vanitas) which presents a photo-realistic rendering of a candlestick and mammal skull, with the latter imperceptibly ‘evolving’ through a range of different animals; Mat Collishaw’s Insecticide 35 photograph of crushed winged insects; Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film Still Life; and Ori Gersht’s Blow Up: Untitled 1, a large scale photograph of an elaborate floral arrangement based on a nineteenth-century still life by the French painter Henri Fantin-Latour, captured at the moment that it explodes. Pieces by Elsa Schiaparelli, Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Isaac Mizrahi, Yohji Yamamoto, Iris van Herpen, Jasper Conran and Philip Treacy are also be on display, among others.