When an exhibition travels from one venue to another, your awareness of the changes that exhibition undergoes is heightened. So often, your thinking around the themes shifts and you see the objects in a completely new way. And in a different light, objects take on different hues of meaning and symbolism.
By Ben Whyman and Laura Thornley
In March 2017, CfFC staff worked with The Barbican Art Gallery and the Belvedere Museum to install The Vulgar: fashion redefined at the Winterpalais in Vienna. Prof Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillip’s exhibition, displayed in the Barbican Art Gallery (October 2016 – February 2017) was re-presented in a completely different environment: from the brutalist concrete walls of a London gallery (with all its associations), to a Baroque palace in Vienna (with all its associations).
Even the title of the exhibition changed, becoming Vulgär? Fashion redefined. The question mark is important to note. The word’s cultural significance shifts as it is translated into another language, drawing out its nuanced meanings. The question mark calms some of the word’s violence. It became, in a very real sense, another exhibition, proposing different questions to reflect on.
The number of exhibited objects decreased and some were changed, resulting in a different proposition. Travelling an exhibition into another venue places demands on space and positioning. Groupings of objects separated by walls in London, now shared the same spaces. New conversations emerge between the themes and new angles tell different stories. The elaborate Baroque backdrop presented challenges and clarity. The concepts don’t need to work as hard in this space, the history of the word is written in the walls, proposing new challenges to our notion of taste and assimilation, exclusion and mimicry.
We were working with different light in Vienna. With blinds drawn and reduced lighting (to protect the gold gilt Baroque interiors), pier mirrors and glass chandeliers, we were working with reflected shadows to craft new angles, drawing out alternative silhouettes, different meanings and propositions. It is this reflection of spaces and refraction of light that was so appealing as we installed the exhibition. How do you view a mid-18th century mantua from the Fashion Museum, Bath’s collection, next to a Gucci men’s embroidered suit from spring/summer 2016, within a gold-gilt Baroque interior? When you look into one of the many mirrors, the exhibition reflects back at you – how do you re-view it? As we viewed the mantuas and the Gucci suit, a mirror reflected puritan-inspired Dior and Givenchy gowns looming behind them – another reflection on a reflection.
The Vulgar: fashion redefined is at Winterpalais, Belvedere Museum, Vienna 03 March 2017 to 25 June 2017