Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture

Running from November 19, 2006-March 5, 2007, this first major museum exhibition devoted to the extensive and telling similarities between architecture and fashion design will be the Museum of Contemporary Art’s major winter show this year. Organized by MOCA and curated by the museum’s Curator of Architecture and Design Brooke Hodge, Skin + Bones will be on view in the museum’s Arata Isozaki-designed building at 250 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibition shines a broad but focused light on the parallels between the “skin” or exterior surface and the “bones” or structural framework of both clothing and buildings of the past 25 years. The work of 46 of today’s most brilliant and creative fashion designers and architects will be represented by a wide range of more than 300 objects: from stunning one-of-a-kind haute couture gowns to intricate architectural models and special full-scale installations. Many of the works have never before been exhibited in the United States.

The exhibition will occupy the entire museum in an installation by New York-based architects Calvin Tsao and Zack McKown designed to reinforce the many connections shared by fashion and architecture. Also, Ralph Pucci Internatinonal a leader in the high-end mannequin and furniture design industry in New York and Los Angeles is providing 60 mannequins for the exhibition. Simply called MANIKIN, this line is part of Pucci’s latest series clean, simple, modern, faceless, and presented in a stone foundry finish, in keeping with the minimal spirit of today’s designs.

Skin + Bones takes as its point of departure design from the beginning of the 1980s, a period marked by significant events and advances that contributed to formal and cultural shifts in both fashion and architecture. Japanese fashion designers Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto first presented their work during the Paris ready-to-wear collections in April 1981. The oversized, often asymmetric black clothing they presented featured intentional holes, tatters, and unfinished edges that stood in stark contrast to the elegantly decorative, crisply tailored, and form-fitting looks shown by most of the designers that year, and as a result, challenged accepted ideas of fashion, femininity and beauty. The following year, architect Bernard Tschumi won the international competition to design Parc de la Villette in Paris. His project, and the resulting collaboration between architect Peter Eisenman and philosopher Jacques Derrida, served to introduce ideas of deconstruction to a much larger audience, and like the work of the Japanese designers, heralded bold new directions that changed the public’s perception of both buildings and clothes. Another critical event reverberating through fashion and architecture was the 1982 exhibition curated by Susan Sidlauskas at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design which, for the first time, examined formal aspects of fashion from an architectural point of view.

While a number of recent exhibitions have explored the relationship between art and fashion, less attention has been paid to the relationship between architecture and fashion, despite the increasing overlap in strategies and techniques shared by the two disciplines. Since the 1980s, a growing number of avant-garde fashion designers have approached garments as architectonic constructions, while architecture has boldly embraced new forms and materials. These developments are due in part to numerous technological advancements that have revolutionized both the design and construction of buildings and made techniques like pleating, seaming, folding and draping part of the architectural vocabulary. Garments of increasing conceptual sophistication and structural complexity have been seen on the runways and in the streets, as buildings of unparalleled fluidity and innovation have come to grace major urban centres around the world.

Taking full advantage of its location in a city renowned for its innovative architecture, MOCA has established a long and distinguished history of engagement with architecture through such exhibitions as Blueprints for Modern Living: The History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses (1989), At the End of the Century: One Hundred Years of Architecture (2000), The Architecture of R.M. Schindler (2001), What’s Shakin’: New Architecture in Los Angeles (2001), Frank Gehry: Work in Progress (2003), and Jean Prouv: Three Nomadic Structures (2005). In addition, MOCA has presented exhibitions featuring some of the most important designers of our timeRonan and Erwan Bouroullec (industrial design), J Mays (car design), and Roy McMakin (furniture design). Skin + Bones expands MOCA’s purview to the most intimate of designed objectsclothingand circles back out to the most publicbuilt structures.

Skin + Bones will feature the work of many of the greatest talents in fashion design today as well the work of a number of promising young designers: Azzedine Alaa, Hussein Chalayan, Comme des Garons, Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Tess Giberson, Yoshiki Hishimuna, Elena Manferdini, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Miyake Issey (formerly Issey Miyake), Narciso Rodriguez, Ralph Rucci, Nanni Strada, Yeohlee Teng, Isabel Toledo, Olivier Theyskens for Rochas, Dries Van Noten, Viktor & Rolf, Junya Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood, and Yohji Yamamoto. Likewise, the architects include innovative practitionersboth established and emergingwho have had, or promise to have, an indelible impact on our built environment: Shigeru Ban, Preston Scott Cohen, Neil Denari/NMDA, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Winka Dubbeldam/Archi-Tectonics, Miralles Tagliabue/EMBT, Peter Eisenman, Foreign Office Architects, Future Systems, Gehry Partners, Zaha Hadid, Herzog + de Meuron, Toyo Ito, Jakob + MacFarlane, Greg Lynn FORM, Morphosis, Neutelings Riedijk, Jean Nouvel, Office dA, Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Kazuyo Sejima+Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA, Testa & Weiser, Bernard Tschumi, Wilkinson Eyre, and J. Meejin Yoon.

The exhibition and accompanying publication have been more than six years in the making, and Curator Brooke Hodge describes the origins thus: “During the course of my research [on another exhibition, devoted to the work of the avant-garde Japanese fashion house Comme des Garons, headed by Rei Kawakubo], I was fascinated not only by visual similarities between clothing and buildings, but also by how the garments could be more aptly described using architectural terminology. I was also impressed by Kawakubo’s desire to create a total environment for her workone that embraced not only the clothes but also the design of retail spaces, graphics, and furniture, much in the same way members of the Wiener Werkstatte or the Bauhaus strove to create a gesamtkunstwerk (synthesis of the arts). That fashion and architecture have a great deal in common may be surprising given the obvious differences between the two. Fashion can often be ephemeral and superficial, and uses soft, fluid materials; whereas architecture is considered monumental and permanent, and uses strong, rigid materials. Regardless of differences in size, scale, and materials, the point of origin for both fashion design and architecture is the human bodyboth practices protect and shelter us, while providing a means to express our identitieswhether personal, political, religious, or cultural.”

Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture is accompanied by a comprehensive full-color publication with written entries on each of the individual architects and designers in the exhibition, as well as over 500 illustrations. Co-published by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Thames & Hudson, the book is edited by Brooke Hodge, MOCA curator of Architecture and Design, and Lisa Mark, director of Publications, and includes contributions by Ms. Hodge, Patricia Mears, and Susan Sidlauskas. The book will be available at all four MOCA store location
s in hardcover only ($49.95) beginning late September 2006.

MOCA is encouraging Skin + Bones viewers to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see Breaking the Mode: Contemporary Fashion from the Permanent Collection, a special exhibition on view from September 17, 2006, through January 7, 2007, which presents the work of a number of clothing designers also included in MOCA’s exhibition. The creation of clothing for protection, profession, or spectacle has undergone dramatic change over the past 25 years. A number of designers have introduced subversive elements into the fashion system, examining and deconstructing its entrenched conventions and changing the rules about what is aesthetically pleasing and fashionable. Breaking the Mode features over 100 examples of contemporary dress, drawn exclusively from LACMA’s permanent collection, by designers who have rejected fashion’s traditional design criteria and solutions. The exhibition features designers Azzedine Alaa, Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo, Christian Lacroix, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Miyake Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood and Yohji Yamamoto, among many others.

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