Extramural ActivitiesSeptember 7, 2012 Fashion
I have just come back from a so-called ‘long’ weekend in Paris. For reasons too boring to explain I did not manage to see the Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs exhibition but I was determined to look at the latest offering of the Palais Galliera. I am still super-annoyed (super – or the more French su-pehr – is my most favourite recent word) that I only ever saw photos of the Galliera’s display at the Musée Bourdelle last year, which looked su-pehr-amazing (check out this set by another fan).
The Galliera, the Museum of Fashion of the City of Paris, has been closed for essential refurbishment ever since their exhibition Sous l’Empire des Crinolines finished in April 2009. During this period the museum had a few exhibitions ‘hors les murs’, which – French not being my su-pehr strong point – seems to mean literally outside the walls/extramural but also has some more vague, outside of expectations/experimental-ish connotations.
The museum’s latest offering consists of two exhibitions (scroll down), one predominantly black, the other white, staged near the Gare d’Austerlitz in a structure designed by Jakob+MacFarlane that also houses the French Institute of Fashion and is called – in Franglais – Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design. (Be warned, there isn’t much in terms of cafés near Les Docks and the apparently cool Café Praliné that is part of it does not seem to open on Sunday mornings. If you don’t function without coffee have one before you head out there.)
This is not an exhibition review, rather some musings on what happens to a curator while he or she is on a busman’s holiday. These days I find it really hard to concentrate on what is exhibited without being constantly distracted by the how. This not uncommon curatorial affliction is related to another maladie, which hopefully someone will find a good name for. I am talking about the painful sensation some dress curators feel when seeing badly executed costumes in ‘period dramas’.
Back to Paris and Monsieur (or should that be Señor?) Balenciaga. At the heart of the exhibition are 70 or so historic dress objects collected by the designer which are juxtaposed with his own creations from the archives of the fashion house and the Galliera. While some of the ‘dialogues’ were fascinating (we particularly favoured the variations on stripes below), I found myself mostly obsessing about the exhibition design and the object mounts.
About fifteen, maybe even more, years ago opening museum stores to ‘the public’ seemed to be the big thing. I first encountered this trend, possibly belatedly, in Vienna at the MAK, still one of my favourite museums (I have quite a long list of FM’s, though). I always liked the idea of ‘open storage’, possibly because I want to see everything and because I still think stores are magical spaces that not enough people are allowed to see. (I know there are a lot of ‘issues’ with displaying the entire or most of your collection with minimal ‘interpretation’ but that’s for another day …)
Unsurprisingly I think making the Balenciaga exhibition space look like a museum depot is pretty genius. Not only does it give you the impression that you are somewhere you would not normally get access to, the design is also practical. Opening the large drawers at the bottom of the units means that visitors are prevented from touching the objects on the dummies behind. Maybe the Galliera should have gone one step further and asked us all to don lab coats?
Below are a few images of other bits and pieces that caught my eye, mainly the use of bent strips of ethafoam (if that’s what it is) to build structures for hats, as well as the jewellery and shoe mounts, and the labels and their holders on the back of the metal units, which are of course in keeping with the store theme.
This experience alone, even without coffee, was rather marvelous but right next door is exhibition no. 2: White Drama – a display of all the pieces from the Comme des Garçons spring/summer 2012 show. Have a look here for more images and videos with the Galliera’s su-pehr director Olivier Saillard’s talking about the reasons behind the exhibition.
I loved the plastic bubble showcases! Not just because I like a bit of futurism but I also suspect – rightly or wrongly – that they are cheaper than glass or plexi showcases, one of the main reasons dress exhibitions can be so very expensive. If you are displaying 21st and post-war 20th century dress you can often get away with open display, but not if all your objects are all white. I could not quite figure out how the bubbles worked apart from noticing their large, round, zip-up doors and their individual air management units.
In the videos Saillard mentions the positive effect of the Galliera’s closure: it provided the opportunity to set up some kind of exhibition research laboratory – with merveilleuse results.
I want to leave you with a little more magic. While doing some fact-checking I came across a performance by Tilda Swinton that will take place between 29 September and 1 October (very, very sadly sold out). For The Impossible Wardrobe, conceived by Saillard, Swinton ‘learned the minute gestures of the fashion archivist and invented others, chaste or romantic’, which she will use to ’showcase’ precious dresses. I so, so, so wish I had a ticket and cannot wait to see the film shot during rehearsals by Katerina Jebb.
Finally, I thought you might like these two Neapolitan nativity figures that peer out of their drawers towards the end of the Balenciaga exhibition. I am not entirely sure what it is about them that I find so fascinating. Maybe that they seem to have seen it all and that they look as if they feel for us?