Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ebony fashion fair:"Inspiring beauty" touring exhibit

Eunice Johnson, photo from the exhibit online materials

Bellevue Arts Museum has hosted a number of great clothing exhibitions over the years. The Ebony Fashion Fair show: Inspring Beauty could have been great.

 This is, first and foremost, a show that tells over and over again  how wonderful Eunice Johnson was. Second, the Johnson family is a great family. Third, here are mostly white designer outfits. 

The focus is off.

 Okay, there are some really great pieces here.
Photography was not allowed, so these photos are from the exhibits' online materials.

Patrick Kelly, "I love fashion", 

Tillman Grawe, cocktail dress, 2003, from the exhibit online materials. This dress has ideas I'm borrowing for costumes. It's all made of fabric bias tubing (woven as well as stuffed with plastic tubes). Beads sewn on the ends for balance and bounce.
The heart of this exhibit are the films and photos of the shows themselves. Pat Cleveland needs to be better known. You already have seen her a million times, you may have seen her in Versailles 73 but we need a proper tribute/biography/catwalk of fame for her.  There is some runway footage, and homage is paid to the emcee of the the shows Audrey Smaltz. 

The other thing I cannot show you is the presentation of these clothes. The mannequins aren't the headless things you see in these photos (from the book for the show); they have faces and are posed in the upfront and out infront manner of the models from the original runway poses. They are in your face. They are specific. They kick ass.

But here's a video that will show you all that. 

And THAT's what this show should have been. The exhibit does reference what a community event these shows were, and there is some footage of the them (I went to a couple as a kid -HOLY MOLEY they were amazing). But the end result of this is a little too tastefully austere for my thinking.

Those mannequins though....

Kara Walker, "African/American"  1998, from the exhibit online materials
 In addition, there was a full floor of very very tough work by Kara Walker, whose cut silhouette style is used to devastating effect. This is not a show for children. This is a show for adults with brains and hearts that need breaking. There are two big series of works, a set of related lithographs and a film Walker did using shadow puppetry. All dealing with the role of slavery in our history and the related horrors. Anything else I add is going to feel trite. She's an artist with powerful storytelling abilities, and rigorous technique.

Bren Ahearn, Sampler 5, 2009, from the exhibit online materials
To end on a lighter note, we've got giant samplers stitched by a man. They were witty and well done and didn't really fit the theme.

And most of the exhibits were off the walls and marked with ropes. The white papers mark the big holes that need fillling. Frankly, as an ex-gallery unpaid employee, I enjoyed this thoroughly.

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