One of Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo’s most challenging fashion shows in her 40-year history was centered on her Spring/Summer 2014 collection entitled “Not Making Clothes.” Staged at the Espace Vêndome in Paris and lit by a single pendulum lamp, the looks included padded cages and tires suspended by chains. The music chosen to accompany this ethereal avant-garde display was an interpretation of St. Matthew Passion, conceptualized by artist Sabisha Friedberg. We were unable to locate a good copy of Friedberg’s work to share, so for this week’s listen up we’ve gone one step backwards to her source of inspiration, J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion BMV244 Part 1: No1.Chorus I & II, “Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen.” This beautiful 6:48 rendition is performed by the Collegium Vocale Gent and Phillippe Herreweghe. It is a fantastic counterpoint to Zippertravel’s images from the current Rei Kawakubo retrospective, “Art of the In-Between,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City,
“I had come to the point where I was feeling that I couldn’t create anything new without radically changing my thinking. I felt that the only way to make something new was to not set out to make clothes.” Rei Kawakubo, 2014
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Art of the In-Between” exhibit, a retrospective of the work of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo (founder of Comme des Garçons), the museumgoer enters a stark white architectural landscape populated by exhilarating and sometimes confounding clothing. Lumps and bumps; coats with a few extra sleeves; blank mannequin faces barely peeking out of an abundance of fur, flowers, or lace; bodies that are bound by wrapping the torso or freed by exaggerated cartoonish silhouettes: Kawakubo has been quoted as saying, “There’s a value in bad taste.” The journey through the exhibit breaks with tradition, as the space itself (with nods to artists Dan Flavin and Richard Serra) creates both a backdrop and cohesion for the fashion: the path is not difficult, but also not clear. Each viewer choses their own route and dead ends yield their own rewards.
This brilliance of Rei Kawakubo’s work is that it is not simply mad for the sake of madness, though it does crash through the guide rails of good form, taste and function. There is historical perspective, exquisite tailoring, layering and detailing, gorgeous fabrications and a yearning to alleviate boredom. In a world where the term visionary is broadly misapplied, Kawakubo’s work at Comme des Garçons has defined the word for more than 40 years and her influence on more conventional fashion houses has been considerable. Her work is often defined as conceptual and intellectual. To that end, the Met has provided a comprehensive 23-page guide to “Art of the In-Between.” But it may not be a good idea to pick up one of the guides as you make your way through the show, as it will tempt you to seek easy, cerebral solutions to the questions her work poses. Don’t let someone explain this extraordinary show to you. Make up your own mind – love it or hate it, the work of Rei Kawakubo gives you the opportunity to experience freedom. Carpe diem!
Unfortunately, “Art of the In-Between” closes at the Met in New York City on September 4th, 2017. No plans for a national or international tour have been announced, but keep your eyes peeled for new developments.