Critics’ Picks

Kimsooja, Mumbai: A Laundry Field, 2007–2008, still from a four-channel video installation.

Kimsooja, Mumbai: A Laundry Field, 2007–2008, still from a four-channel video installation.

New York

“Dress Codes”

International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)
79 Essex
October 2, 2009–January 17, 2010

Art and fashion mergers seem so 2007—Takashi Murakami’s Louis Vuitton exhibition boutique would likely bomb in this economic climate. So it’s a relief to see a refreshingly sober and sometimes surreal view of fashion explored in the third ICP Triennial. The glittery thematic surface of “Dress Codes” quickly gives way to a bracing range of subjects—media manipulation and global economies chief among them. Only a few of the included thirty-four international artists directly employ the disco beat of haute couture: Cindy Sherman’s Paris Vogue–commissioned images take jabs at aging, Balenciaga-clad doyennes and slumming young fashionistas; the Claymation bodies of Nathalie Djurberg’s animated models are, befitting the artist’s output, creepily emaciated and infantilized; and Valérie Belin’s giant portraits emphasize the mannequin artificiality of comely models and amplify the wrinkle-free hegemony of glossy magazines.

The show’s conceptual cloak is, wisely, roomy enough to accommodate sartorial and sociopolitical ambiguity. Yto Barrada reveals the former’s cultural baggage with a series of almost evidentiary photographs of a Moroccan woman, dressed in a traditional djellaba. Sequentially shedding layers of fabric she intends to smuggle, the woman unveils a primary means of economic support. Meanwhile, Milagros de la Torre’s 2008 still lifes of bulletproof Prada-esque blouses for Central and South American boutiques point to another form of concealment. A heavy veil of narcissism hangs over Julika Rudelius’s Tagged, 2003, a multichannel video installation depicting young, label-conscious Turkish men, whose economically strapped families scrimp to coddle their sons in expensive jeans as expressions of aspiration.

The show’s most visually stunning iteration of global fashion is Kimsooja’s Mumbai: A Laundry Field, 2007–2008, a four-screen projected travelogue that makes its points with well-cut swaths of vibrantly colored fabrics—being worn, washed, and dried—as witnessed from moving vehicles, commuter trains, and the like. The sense of movement has the glamour of the fashion runway, without a shred of the pretense.