I have been thinking, lately, about the intersections between fashion and art and popular culture, ever since reading what I thought of as a particularly asinine quote from the pop star, Lady Gaga:
"I really love the lyrics to ARTPOP, the title track," she told the gossip blog, Just Jared, when asked which were "the most powerful lyrics" on her latest album. “'We could belong together, ARTPOP.' The words seem really simple but it’s through the creative experiences with my friends that we’re able to create this thing that goes together – art and pop. It’s a reverse of what Andy Warhol began – this idea that you can take Marilyn off the canvas and put the canvas inside of her."
Alex Noble,The Three - Injection Room; © Londonewcastle Project Space.
Does the fact that Gaga is consciously describing herself as an inverse version of Andy Warhol mean that she is herself an artist? Is the artist's context and intent enough? If Lady Gaga attends a fashion show in prosthetic face adornments which mimic the plastic surgery undergone by Orlan (who, in fact, is in the process of suing the star for intellectual property theft), this might technically be an art action. As an exercise, I had looked at a review for Jeff Koons' most recent show at David Zwirner, Gazing Ball, immediately afterwards: as far as ARTPOP goes, it's safe to assume that Koons is the closest we have to a living Warhol, inverted or otherwise, making the comparison what I believed to be a fair one:
"That each [Grecian plaster cast] has affixed to it a mirrored blue ball that you might find in a suburban birdbath,” claims the NYT, “almost reduces the sculptures to yard ornaments, but it also gives them a visual, contemporary spark – the reflective blue is a perfect foil for the absorbent white.”
This only seems moderately less blank and less fashion-driven than the idea of “putting the canvas inside” Marilyn Monroe, whatever that's meant to mean. A week ago, I bought a bottle of Perrier whose label proclaimed it not just to be Perrier, but Perrier, By Andy Warhol. It tasted the same.
Alex Noble, Kate Moss sculpture; © Londonewcastle Project Space
What this meandering train of thought has to do with Alex Noble's show at the Londonewcastle space is this: firstly, that Noble is a fashion designer, and a designer of advertising and department-store installations alongside his artwork; secondarily, that Gaga is a former (former-and-current, perhaps, but certainly former) client of his, as is Florence “and the Machine” Welch. So are Alex Noble's mannequins art, or set design? Are these paintings fashion illustrations, or fully-realised conceptual artworks? A pair of plaster-cast heads, painted pink and adorned with butterflies, replicate the heavenly head of Kate Moss. Their proximity to a supermodel might make them fashion props, but if this is the case, what of Marc Quinn's gold Kate Moss sculpture, Sphinx?
Looking at a show like Creatures from the Kaleidoscope, I wonder how far my opinion of what is and isn't "art" is coloured – vividly, psychedelically, kaleidoscopically – by the artist's reputation, and by the obtuseness of their press releases. To date, the estimate on one of Jeff Koons' balloon dog sculptures, which is due for auction at Christie's, is fifty-five-million dollars; one could argue that any of Noble's pieces is equally as visually punchy – as suggestive of a special and immersive brand of postmodern fantasy. This comparison isn't intended to elevate or to minimise either artist, or their output – merely to point out that the nebulous lines between art and fashion and commerce can sometimes be more difficult to address than the art which straddles them. Creatures from the Kaleidoscope is as bold and cleanly executed and genuinely dazzling to look at as a highly-buffed Nick Knight photo-shoot. There are references to stained-glass, to op-art and pop-art and psychedelia – there are so many colours that a visitor might feel intoxicated. Whether this is art, or fashion – or both – is the riddle of Marc Quinn's sphinx.
(Image on top: Alex Noble, EVE AND LARGER WORKS; © Londonewcastle Project Space.)