in 1944, architect bernard rudofsky curated a fashion-centric exhibition at MoMA and asked the question: ‘are clothes modern?’.  73 years later, paola antonelli — the institution’s senior curator of architecture and design — is reviving a similar discussion in presenting MoMA’s first fashion-based design installation since rudofsky’s.

 

‘items: is fashion modern?’, on view until january 28th, is a complex curatorial puzzle, comprising 111 fashion pieces that seek to express the ‘powerful and enduring manifestations of the ways in which fashion — a crucial field of design — touches everyone, everywhere.’

MoMA items fashion modern
dress by thierry mugler, 1981
image courtesy of indianapolis museum of art/lucille stewart endowed art fund | image © thierry mugler, 2017

 

 

the 111 item types are represented with supplementary photography and videos materials, culminating in an exhibit of around 350 total pieces. the exhibition fills the entire sixth floor of MoMA with an overarching examination of the last 100 years through distinct periods, focusing on their iconic fashion choices, trends, and accessories. in rudofsky’s 1944 exhibition, he explored the social relationships between people and their mid-century styles. similarly, ‘items: is fashion modern’ explores a myriad of stylistic choices, some of which are still prominent today. examples include the little black dress, the moon boot craze, the hajib, and the bikini — spanning both time and cultures.

MoMA items fashion modern
installation view of ‘items: is fashion modern?’ at the museum of modern art
image by martin seck | image © 2017 the museum of modern art

 

 

‘a powerful form of creative and personal expression that can be approached from multiple angles of study, fashion is unquestionably also a form of design, with its pitch struck in negotiations between form and function, means and goals, automated technologies and craftsmanship, standardization and customization, universality and self-expression,’ paola antonelli says. ‘like all physical and digital forms of design, it moves today on a spectrum ranging from post-industrial seriality (from prêt-à-porter to fast fashion) to precious, handcrafted uniqueness (couture). as design, it exists in the service of others. in most cases, it is designed by a human being to dress others—sometimes many, many others—so that they can function in the world, in different arenas.’

MoMA items fashion modern 
designer norma kamali in a sleeping bag coat, elle, september 1990
image courtesy of gilles bensimon | image by gilles bensimon

 

 

visitors’ progression through the exhibition focuses on clusters of objects grouped together to accentuate a specific trend or fashion type. the exhibition begins with an area devoted to the concept of mutated bodies and the silhouette, which creates a strong contrast with other highlighted trends such as fashion and technology, clothing with an explicit message, athleticism in fashion, and the uniform. to conclude, the exhibition explores the theme of ‘power,’ eventually revealing, through a system of data visualization, the hidden connections and patterns between all 111 items. 

MoMA items fashion modern
installation view of ‘items: is fashion modern?’ at the museum of modern art
image by martin seck | image © 2017 the museum of modern art

 

 

MoMA’s installation of these 111 item types, in the simplest terms, describes fashion trends over the last century. highlighted item types include: levi’s 501 jean, the bandanna, capri pants, clogs, espadrilles, the panama hat, the loafer, and the speedo. with the information provided by these objects, visitors gain an intricate understanding of fashion as an indicator of social and cultural evolution. fashion is a field of design that is able to straddle both form and function. some of the items presented are recognizable, some still in a closet at home, others on your pricey wishlist. together, within the confines of the museum, these objects are transformed into symbols of stereotypes, personas, and cultural histories. 


a-poc le feu, by issey miyake and dai fujiwara, from the issey miyake spring/summer 1999 collection
image courtesy of a-poc le feu, 1999 spring summer issey miyake paris collection | image by yasuaki yoshinaga

MoMA items fashion modern
installation view of ‘items: is fashion modern?’ at the museum of modern art
image by martin seck | image © 2017 the museum of modern art

MoMA items fashion modern
sikh men wearing dastar, USA, 2013
image courtesy of  b christopher | alamy stock photo

MoMA items fashion modern
pencil skirt interpreted for ‘items: is fashion modern?’
image courtesy of the museum of modern art | © 2017 bobby doherty

MoMA items fashion modern
installation view of ‘items: is fashion modern?’ at the museum of modern art
image by martin seck | image © 2017 the museum of modern art

MoMA items fashion modern
white t-shirt and y-3 interpreted for ‘items: is fashion modern?’
image courtesy of the museum of modern art | © 2017 kristin-lee moolman & ib kamara

MoMA items fashion modern
one-star perfecto leather motorcycle jacket, late 1950’s
image courtesy of schott nyc

MoMA items fashion modern
installation view of ‘items: is fashion modern?’ at the museum of modern art
image by martin seck | image © 2017 the museum of modern art

MoMA items fashion modern
dashiki, door-knocker earrings, and dutch wax interpreted for items: is fashion modern?
image courtesy of the museum of modern art | © 2017 monika mogi

MoMA items fashion modern
kinematics dress by nervous systems, 2014 of laser-sintered nylon
image courtesy of steve marsel | the museum of modern art, committee on architecture and design funds
read more about the project on designboom here

MoMA items fashion modern
aran sweater interpreted for ‘items: is fashion modern?’
image courtesy the museum of modern art | © 2017 catherine losing

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