We have two taxidermy ravens, battling perpetually on a Pam Hogg headpiece. A cloak made from hair, courtesy of Maison Martin Margiella. An 18th Century Court of Mantua dress that is four (four!) metres wide. Solid gold everything: golden bonnets; cutlery; fans; nipples; shoes; cloaks. Sheltered by the brim of an red enormous pillbox hat, an elephant erupts naughtily from the crotch Walter Van Beirendorek skirt, its trunk erect.
At The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, more is more, kitsch is king, sex is in and shyness is sin.
Conceived by curator Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, the show traces the idea of vulgarity from its earliest origins to the present day. Vivienne Westwood’s ‘tits’ top sits across from sixteenth century manuscripts. An eighteenth century Ladies Etiquette manual bleats ‘By dressing well, we do not mean dressing extravagantly. You might have the most costly attire, you might appear in satin and lace, feathers, and jewels, and yet be far from well dressed’. Just opposite, a sheer Pam Hogg dress made from leather, lace netting and feathers wafts gently on the breeze.
We have wigs, manuscripts, textiles, costumes, photographs film and video; work from Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, Moschino and Gucci. Fashion, we are shown, is changeable. What was once the height of vulgarity appears today to be entirely tasteful. Vulgarity does not exist. It is merely a matter of perspective.
Throughout the show, a series of anodyne statements from Adam Phillips muse on the nature of vulgarity from the walls; ‘ Puritanism is its form and its target’’ The vulgar is as convincing as a phobia but when we think we understand it we still don’t like it. It is degraded and degrading, as though there are too many bodies involved, and bodies are contagious.’
These sober statements seem entirely the wrong pitch - self-important, humourless, didactic. Where’s the fun? Look at all these mad clothes!
Similarly, the design is all off. Black walls and white screens make an oppressive environment, rigid and drained of colour. The mannikins look like they’ve been pinched off the high-street. The clothes sit obediently behind glass. The whole thing just feels quite… quiet. Perhaps the gallery could have looked at the hugely inventive Bowie, Exhibitionism, or Alexander McQueen exhibitions for design inpiration
Nevertheless, there’s so much to enjoy, so much to covet, that you can’t stay cross for long.
|What||The Vulgar review, Barbican Art Gallery|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
13 Oct 16 – 05 Feb 17, Sat–Wed 10am–6pm, Thu–Fri 10am–9pm
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|