What is the first page you are likely to see in any art publication? Fifty percent of the time it will be a double page spread from Prada or Saint Laurent. Fashion and art have been bedmates for decades—with product and editorial collaborations from artists including Sterling Ruby, Jeff Koons, Daniel Silver, Cindy Sherman, and Takashi Murakami. In turn, fashion designers are increasingly drawing on trends and aesthetics of art in their work. (In recent seasons, it is easy to see the influence of artists like Laura Owens and Hilma af Klint.)
Why is art so keen to gain some of the gloss and glean of the fashion world and vice versa? Art brings credibility, intelligence, and a hint of freedom—a marketing department’s dream. The first thing fashion brands bring is finance. There is nothing new about this relationship. It is just an updated version of the kind of patronage that companies like Henry Tate’s sugar company Tate & Lyle, or before that royalty and the church. Fashion brands share the same audience as contemporary artists. The people that buy Céline clothes are almost guaranteed to be collectors. As artworks increasingly get (re)absorbed by commodity culture, it is important to look for positive ways, apart from damn good parties, that this symbiosis can work.
What is interesting is how brand-funded exhibition spaces are becoming some of the most important venues for contemporary art shows. The Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain, in Paris, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, was one of the first of the big spaces. Its president Alain Dominique Perrin was influential in passing the 1987 French “Léotard law,” establishing the practices of contemporary art patronage in France. (Yes they have actual legal guidelines). The Fondation has always made it essential to have a clear separation from the Maison Cartier. Massimiliano Gioni, who curated the last Venice Biennale and is based at New York’s New Museum, has served as artistic director for the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, curating shows by Paul McCarthy and Fischli & Weiss.
The Fondazione Prada outpost in Venice—the first is in Milan—has outshone its contemporaries with exhibitions that are heavily conceptual, highly respected, and have a more distanced relationship to the brand itself in terms of content and presentation. These foundations are very different from the glut of fashion-brand exhibitions, something Ellen Gamerman rightfully questioned in the Wall Street Journal this June. Here, she quoted Bruce Altshuler, director of New York University’s Program in Museum Studies: “Nobody ever said museums are pure, but at least there’s an element of public trust that when you go to a museum, what you’re seeing is museum-worthy. The widespread exhibiting of luxury-brand goods erodes that trust.”
On October 27, the new Fondation Louis Vuitton opens to the public in Paris. With a building by Frank Gehry, commissioned by Louis Vuitton parent company LVMH’s Bernard Arnault, the huge space aims to focus on late 20th century and contemporary art. It is described as “a corporate foundation and a private cultural initiative dedicated to art and artists” that extends LMVH’s history of cultural patronage over the past two decades. This is not the first exhibition space that Louis Vuitton has launched—with the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in the 8th arrondissement and its sister in Tokyo; across the exhibition spaces, they have put on shows by Jorinde Voigt, Danh Vo, and Andreas Angelidakis. The new museum in the Bois de Boulogne will blow these past spaces out of the water. Arnault told the Financial Times, “We see our role as bringing the artists we show at the Fondation closer to the public, and encouraging a desire for innovation. It’s the same reason we show artworks in some of our maisons, because not only do they resonate with the products, they also give our customers the feeling of being at home. We don’t want to be a museum shop.” Interestingly, in 50 years the land and building revert to the city.
This interrelationship between major labels and fashion is also detected on a more, let’s call it accessible, level. In the exhibitions at concept shops like Celestine Eleven in London and Colette in Paris, or in the design and art interventions in London’s Dover Street Market. Beginning this September, Club Monaco in London is incorporating exhibitions focused on emerging local artists at its flagship Sloane Square shop.
House of Voltaire, the biennial temporary fundraising shop that supports gallery Studio Voltaire in London, has teamed up with French fashion label Chloé this year for its November and December pop-up. The focus is on special one-off collaborations between artists and fashion designers, including Kim Gordon and Simone Rocha, Roksanda Ilincic and Eva Rothschild, and Jim Lambie and Sibling, among others. Chloé has also selected three female artists—Cao Fei, Karen Kilimnik, and Jenny Saville—to create pieces for the shop. Director Joe Scotland explains, “We have found that some artists really like working in a different way. Through the project we are able to provide a different platform for them outside of their regular practice. They are able to produce something which people use or wear in their everyday lives—and reach a much wider audience than they might not normally do.”
There is a vein of artists who make artwork with a critical relationship to fashion—including Bernadette Corporation, DIS, Sylvie Fleury, Yinka Shonibare, and Josephine Meckseper. In an era where the support, influence, and taste of fashion brands is ever-present, these approaches feel increasingly resonant. As much as exhibitions need funding, one eye should be kept open to what kind of work is being allowed to get through the door.
House of Voltaire and Chloé collaboration on view Nov. 12 – Dec. 20, 2014, Upstairs, 39-40 Albemarle St Mayfair, London W1S 4TE.
View of the building, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 2013. © Jean Nouvel / Adagp, Paris. Photo: © Luc Boegly. View of the exhibition David Lynch, The Air is on Fire, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 2007. © David Lynch. Photography © Patrick Gries. | Installation View of ‘Art or Sound’, Fondazione Prada, Ca’ Corner della Regina, Venice, June 7 – November 3, 2014 (from left to right: Tom Sachs, Toyan’s Jr., 2001 and Gebrüder Wellershaus Fairground Organ, early 20th Century). Photo: Attilio Maranzano, courtesy Fondazione Prada. Installation view of “When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013.” (From left to right: works by Barry Flanagan, Richard Artschwager, Alighiero Boetti, Mario Merz.) Fondazione Prada, Ca’ Corner della Regina Venice, June 1 – November 3, 2013. Photo by Attilio Maranzano, courtesy: Fondazione Prada. | Fondation LouisVuitton, ©Iwan Baan, 2014.