Björk wearing Bernard Willhelm (2008) by Juergen Teller.EXPAND
Björk wearing Bernard Willhelm (2008) by Juergen Teller.
Courtesy of the Bass

"DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8" Displays Designer Garments as High Art

If you've visited the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, you've witnessed firsthand how powerful fashion can become when displayed in a museum setting. It might be hard to imagine fashion as art in everyday life, but displayed in an exhibition — and enhanced with impeccable art direction — fashion is observed as a revolutionary medium. Its representational power as a reflection of the times is drawn into sharp focus; its economic impact — both as a commodity and as a symbol of mass wealth — is considered from a more scholarly perspective. The remarkable craft found in luxury goods is irrevocably an art form, and when it's displayed in a setting complemented by architecture, sculpture, and photography, a viewer can more firmly grasp fashion's role within society and contemporary art.

In an exhibition that uniquely blurs the boundaries between art and fashion, the latest show at the Bass presents nearly a decade's worth of runway style alongside works by some of the world's most celebrated visual artists, including Juergen Teller and Helmut Lang. Organized in collaboration with the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, "DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8" is an incremental project designed to question the role fashion plays in shaping the globe from an artist's perspective. The exhibition, which opened this past Thursday, will be on display through September 2.

Annually from 2007 to 2014, Deste commissioned an artist to survey the year's fashion collections and select five items with which to execute a capsule collection. The chosen artists — which include Teller, Lang, Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Matthew Monteith, Maria Papadimitriou, M/M (Paris), Patrizia Cavalli, Charles Ray, and Athina Rachel Tsangari — then curated a capsule by displaying both their chosen items and a selection of artworks in an effort to draw out the social, material, and economic complexities circulating between fashion and art. The resulting exhibition, redesigned for the Bass, contemplates fashion from a current perspective, incorporating themes such as female objectification and income inequality into an eight-capsule show.

Architect Edwin Chang executed the Miami rendition of the exhibition, which includes brightly colored walls and towering plastic hurricane shutters as dividers between capsules. (Bass director Silvia Cubiñá jokes that this aspect of the show was their "homage to Irma.") Wang notes the colors were chosen to flow with Teller's work, with navy blue, millennial pink, and burnt orange lending vibrance to an array of pieces.

Teller's capsule collection is particularly noteworthy in the context of current events. Selecting apparel from the 2008 collections of Marc Jacobs and Lang, Teller intersperses a costume worn by Björk with his own fashion editorial images shot over the span of ten years. As an iconic and celebrated fashion photographer, Teller and his work can be problematic. Fashion photography has historically contextualized women into boxes — they're either sex-fueled, lifeless, or buried beneath an object. In his comment on the collection, Teller glosses over those issues. Instead, he focuses on how celebrity culture has fueled fashion consumption by a wider public, ignoring the fact that the celebrities featured in his exhibition are depicted as lifeless or vapid, as in Björk wearing Bernhard Willhelm (2008) and Victoria Beckham (2008). Despite Teller's failure to recognize his own role in female objectification, the capsule serves its purpose within the context of the exhibition: It asks the viewer to question fashion's role as a purveyor and promoter of misogynistic views of women.

An exhibition view of "DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8."
An exhibition view of "DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8."
Courtesy of the Bass Museum of Art

Similarly, a capsule curated by fashion designer and interdisciplinary artist Helmut Lang hits the mark when considering fashion as a stark reminder of growing income inequality. Lang was tasked with creating a capsule using fashion pieces from 2009 — a year in which the global economy was crashing but the world's wealthiest individuals were profiting from its fall. Alongside an ostrich Birkin bag by Hermés, a coveted yet notoriously expensive luxury good, Lang displays a white paper bag known as a "shame bag." According to museum curators, the shame bag is used by shoppers who wish to hide the contents of their shopping bags to avoid being reproached publicly for their wealth.

For this capsule, Lang included just one work: Front Row (2009) re-creates the fashion runway with a series of resin chairs lined up like a spectator row. The chairs are left empty as a symbol of the financial chaos of 2009 and the effect it played on fashion's relevance.

Though the show features fashion by luxury brands such as Comme des Garçons, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga, it also brings in heritage garments from cultural groups. Papadimitriou's capsule is composed almost entirely of traditional gypsy dress. She highlights how fashion represents cultural pride beyond mere expression and chooses to display historical items from gypsy collections alongside works from her Irma fashion brand.

It's uncommon for a Miami museum to display fashion as a contemporary art vehicle, and on view in a constantly evolving Collins Park neighborhood, the exhibition is particularly thought-provoking. But even if you fail to make the connection between art and fashion, the incredible pieces included in "DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8" are worth witnessing.

"DesteFashionCollection: 1 to 8." Through September 2 at the Bass, 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; thebass.org. Admission is $10 for adults; $5 for students, seniors, and youth ages 13 to 18; and free to members and children 12 and under.

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