Categories ArtPosted on

A Matter of Perspective: The Vulgar (Art) of Fashion at the Barbican

SEEN has always considered fashion to be a fine art, but the history of fashion, unlike other fine arts, is tainted with accusations of vulgarity and bad taste. The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, hosted at Barbican Art Gallery until 5th February 2017, is the first exhibition to consider the inherently challenging but utterly compelling territory of taste, by revisiting historically significant displays that were received as outrageously vulgar when first shown.

SEEN has always considered fashion to be a fine art, but the history of fashion, unlike other fine arts, is tainted with accusations of vulgarity and bad taste. The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, hosted at Barbican Art Gallery until 5th February 2017, is the first exhibition to consider the inherently challenging but utterly compelling territory of taste, by revisiting historically significant displays that were received as outrageously vulgar when first shown.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

Encompassing a 500-year time frame, it both questions notions of vulgarity in fashion while revelling in its excesses, inviting the visitor to think again about exactly what makes something vulgar, and why it has always been such a sensitive and contested term throughout history.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

This unique display, which anybody with an artistic interest in fashion cannot miss, has been conceived by exhibition-maker Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. It takes fascinating literary definitions of ‘the vulgar’ as a starting point, and includes a wide array of over 120 stunning pieces from the Renaissance through to the 21st century, drawn from major public and private collections worldwide. Featuring contributions from leading modern and contemporary designers, such as Manolo Blahnik, Christian Dior, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood, among many others.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

Weaving together historic dress, couture and ready-to-wear fashion, textile ornamentation, manuscripts, photography and film, this carefully crafted installation illustrates how taste has been differently understood in different times: what was once associated with vulgarity is reconjured by designers to become the height of fashion. The exhibition looks at fashion’s fascination with vulgarity’s excesses, featuring moments in dress history of extravagance, ostentation and exhibitionism, such as a pair of 18th century mantuas, with overskirts nearly 2.5 metres in width; a selection of exquisite 18th century stomachers; and a collection of intricately decorated fans from The Fan Museum in Greenwich.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017>> on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

One of the exhibition’s themes directly explores the relationship of fashion to the body; both through over-exposure using lace and body stockings to simultaneously reveal and conceal the body in looks from Louis Vuitton and Pam Hogg; and the exaggerated body, where the body is explored and its erogenous zones amplified in looks such as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s tits top, and Belgian avant-garde designer Walter van Beirendonck’s elephant skirt outfit with Stephen Jones’ oversized hat.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 - 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)
LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 12: The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, Barbican Art Gallery, 13 October 2016 – 5 February 2017 on October 12, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Bowles/Getty Images for Barbican Art Gallery)

The Vulgar opened at Barbican Art Gallery on 13th October 2016 and will be on display until 5th February, 2017. SEEN strongly recommends you visit this original display of fashion through the ages that exposes how ‘the vulgar’, like its counterpoint ‘good taste’, is ultimately all about perspective – what you fear today, you’ll enjoy tomorrow.

13th October 2016 – 5th February 2017

www.barbican.org.uk

Barbican Centre
Silk Street
London EC2Y 8DS

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