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 "...one 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 and what you are. But I don’t think they’re victims of any kind. Being fragile doesn’t make you not strong. We must be aware of what strength is, vulnerability is strength, as well. To be conscious of all your emotions as a woman."-Yelena Yemchuk, Vice. com Interview.
Italian artist Francesco Clemente's "Watchtowers, Keys, Threads, Gates" includes site-specific murals drawn in sepia pencil and embellished with an Oxblood color, and found-object sculpture that fills a large gallery space.
Clemente's work is often described as "dreamlike" and rightfully so. Walking carefully through the gallery floor feels like exploring a space that is familiar but not. To me, it felt like exploration on a different planet or a recently-evacuated country. Maybe a recently evacuated different planet!
"Francesco Clemente is a contemporary artist known for exploring metaphysical questions of spirituality, mysticism, and the nature of the self." - BrantFoundation.org.
Despite the spare forms, each piece held my attention. Because of the simple, yet deliberate and well-crafted shapes and sparse color use, it was easy for the mind to create its own story around the art and fill in the spaces. There was something a little bleak about this installation, and that was part of its appeal.
There were no cameras allowed in Mario Sorrenti's "Kate." I suspect that's because it focuses on a young Kate Moss at the start of her career, in various states of undress.
"Kate" is a small exhibition, and the most straightforward of the four. There are no bells and whistles, but the photos are beautiful, vulnerable and personal, almost to the point of being intrusive to look at. Moss and Sorrenti had a romantic relationship, and the photos convey a level of comfort and trust between them.
Francesco Clemente, "Watchtowers, Keys, Threads, Gates,"
"Self Service: Twenty-Five Years of Fashion, People and Ideas Reconsidered"
Mario Sorrenti, "Kate" and Yelena Yemchuk, "Mabel, Betty and Bette" are on view through August 25 at the Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street, Dallas. Admission is free, and donations are encouraged.