“Dries Van Noten – Inspirations”

107, rue de Rivoli
March 1–August 31

View of “Dries Van Noten – Inspirations,” 2014.

Neither retrospective nor commercial display, “Dries Van Noten – Inspirations” is the rare design exhibition that contextualizes fashion as merely one aspect of visual culture. An interlacing of the Belgian fashion designer’s most recognizable collections with a multitude of his influences fills two levels, from floor to wallpapered ceiling, of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Arranged both chronologically and thematically—and interrupted by a film installation by David Michalek that animates several recent designs—the show highlights the Antwerp Six designer’s collections, from pieces marking his graduation show at the Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts in 1981 to his spring/summer 2014 collections, inspired by the museum’s wares and the making of this exhibition.

The constellation of visual style pairs a grid of David Bowie and Grace Jones album covers that fills a nearby wall with jackets and blazers featuring the bold shoulders that marked the 1980s, sharply cut in dyed leather. Meanwhile, mannequin clusters positioned against backdrops with faraway imagined landscapes, including Mexico and the “Orient,” accumulate as notes of wanderlust and exoticism in the designer’s archive. Moving along obliquely, conceptual groupings such as “Uniforms” are presented, with military-style suits and their inspirations—film stills from Francis Alÿs’s The Guards, 2005, and Michaël Borremans’s oil portrait of a soldier, Lakei, 2010; “Butterflies” introduces a Damien Hirst canvas to a 1937 Elsa Schiaparelli gown covered in the titular insects, netting to match; the concept of gold is epitomized exultantly—glamorously—by a 1978 Thierry Mugler lamé dress, a 1967 Chanel suit, and an early twentieth-century Balkan costume, all kept safe in glass vitrines.

The friction between moods is a productive one. Complicating the rich anthropological aspects of the show, the ontology of textures, both tactile and visual, tempers “Inspirations” into a complex, entangled arrangement.

Jennifer Piejko

“Unedited History: Iran 1960–2014”

11 avenue du Président Wilson
May 16–August 24

Arash Hanaei, Capital, 2009, print on coated paper, 64 x 42 1/2".

The curators of “Unedited History: Iran 1960–2014” claim “not to construct a definitive history but to recreate the major social and political ‘sequences’ that shaped the country’s visual culture between the 1960s and the present day.” The exhibition-as-documentary’s discrete, clean, and indeed, highly edited presentations include individuals’ works and collated material (one section traces the history of the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of the Arts). Following the circuit of the museum’s top floor, temporary walls positioned at offset angles demarcate and divide artists’ works into three chapters: before, after, and during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 through 1988. Camera-based mediums dominate, and the selection is tightly orchestrated with the aim of informing viewers about a history of cultural aspirations fueled by an agenda to be modern. Shown interrupted—indeed, placed on hold—by the revolution, the country’s previously pursued and imposed modernist legacy is represented by a quiet, small presentation of graphic posters and vitrined publications. Certain modernist figures’ works are given fresh attention—the collages of Bahman Mohassess and the journalistic photographs of Kaveh Golestan, for example—although a shortage of interaction between the works strips down the vividness of their original context. Similarly, the conditions of the contemporary postrevolution are framed in relation to a modernism in Western terms, and viewers come to question whether this approach is generative or an unsupported framing that leads to misinterpretation.

The exhibition, again according to the curators, puts forth an intriguing sampling of “the basic components of Iranian visual culture” that, in its focus on “the sometimes less obvious continuities between successive periods,” only makes viewers curious for further context. Bahman Kiarostami’s standout video Flowers, 2013, which sampled TV reports from April 1, 1979, the day the revolution was announced, acts as a portal to the feverish on-air, off-the-cuff experience of a particular time and place, and knowingly hints at implications of mediating history through the unavoidable act of editing.

Laura Preston