Vanitas: Fashion and Art examines the theme of vanitas as expressed by avant garde ready-to-wear and haute couture fashion and contemporary artworks. Traditionally used to refer to a type of still life painting popular in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, the term ‘vanitas’ has become more generally associated with art that meditates on the ephemeral character of earthly pleasures and worldly accomplishments, and highlights the fragility of our desires in the face of the inevitability of death. With its accelerated cycle of obsolescence, explicit manifestation of status and material success, and potential for narcissistic self-regard, fashion is a particularly apt medium through which to explore this exhibition’s central theme.
Vanitas artworks usually incorporate particular types of imagery that allude to the transience of life, as well as often including more explicit representations of momento mori. In order to draw out these connections the exhibition’s curator, Harold Koda (the celebrated Curator-in-Charge of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), has subdivided the exhibition into sections according to the allegorical imagery often found in vanitas works, such as ‘skulls’, ‘butterflies’ and ‘poppies’. Works featuring these themes include Jason Salavon’s Still Life (Vanitas) which presents a photo-realistic rendering of a candlestick and mammal skull, with the latter imperceptibly ‘evolving’ through a range of different animals; Mat Collishaw’s Insecticide photograph of crushed winged insects; a beautiful Poppy hat by Jasper Conran and Philip Treacy.
Pieces by Isaac Mizrahi, Manolo Blahnik and a velvet mirrored evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli will also be on display, alongside dresses by Yohji Yamamoto and Iris van Herpen, among others. Conceived as a kind of exoskeleton and created through the use of computer programs and 3D printing, Van Herpen’s polyamide dress gives the appearance of a skeletal form and was presented as part of the designer’s debut collection. These pieces from the world of fashion will be juxtaposed with film and video works by Sam Taylor-Johnson and Greta Alfaro, photographs from Pinar Yolacan’s Perishables series, and Ori Gersht’s Blow Up, a large scale photograph of an elaborate floral arrangement based on a nineteenth-century still-life by the French painter Henri Fantin-Latour, captured at the moment that it explodes.