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Review: Dallas Contemporary: Summer Exhibitions

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

A few weeks ago, we visited the Dallas Contemporary to check out what they have on view for the summer. The majority of these exhibitions feature style, clothing and pop culture, and recall the Contemporary's recent and successful Jeremy Scott, "Viva Avant Garde" retrospective and Mary Katrantzou's "Mary, Queen of Prints." The addition of Francesco Clemente's installation and sculpture work diversifies the space.

"Self Service: Twenty-Five Years of Fashion, People and Ideas Reconsidered" is the largest of the four shows currently on view, and includes photos, wall-sized installations, videos, and art books.

Walking into the gallery was an immediately immersive experience. The Contemporary's Web site describes it as stepping into a fashion magazine, and that's exactly right. The wall-sized pieces vary enough in size and scope to not overwhelm the viewer, and at the same time, they're large enough to see a lot of visual detail and get lost in the images.

Self Service Magazine is more of a coffee table book than a magazine. It's one to collect, to re-read, keep archives of and build a library that chronicles a curated look at fashion and style over the course of decades. In that context, it's easy to see what this exhibition got right, and one does not have to be familiar with the magazine to see that it is both timeless and new, with imagery that would feel current today, last year, or 25 years ago. The exhibition, like the magazine, is designed so that each image feels fresh and interesting, it also has a very specific design style that holds everything together.


Ukranian artist Yelena Yemchuk's "Mabel, Betty & Bette" is physically positioned in a narrow corridor between the Clemente installations and "Self Service," making it feel like an extension of and complement to "Self Service" instead of a jarring transition or afterthought. With that said, its tone and content are different, and much more inwardly focused.

This exhibition is comprised of 40 portraits and a short film, and shows three fictional women, the title characters Mabel, Betty and Bette in various scenarios and clothing, inhabited by different "cast members," including models Karen Elson, Carolyn Murphy and Eva Herzigova. Although the costuming is beautifully chosen and Yemchuk has a background in fashion photography, this isn't a fashion exhibition and doesn't try to be. Instead, Yemchuk builds a nuanced and interesting world around these three women, who according to the artist, are meant to be " person with three faces. Or one person existing in three different dimensions."

"They’re confused and lost in their expression and places; they’re going through this moment of loss. You’re not sure where a