Vanitas // The Bass Museum // Silvia Cubina

With the breakaway popularity of fashion installations in major museums (including McQueen at the Met and Gaultier at the Brooklyn Museum here in NYC), we have seen a reemergence of the conversation between high fashion and high art.  Here at the Arcade, where we live daily in fashion and music and art, we couldn’t be happier.  The Bass Museum in Miami has taken on the mantle with their new exhibition “Vanitas: Fashion and Art.”  Including fashion by Isaac Mizrahi, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Alexander McQueen, “Vanitas” explores the beautiful impermanence of the body and our bodily experience. The installation places pieces of clothing in conversation with paintings and photographs to explore the aesthetics of how living bodies, from humans to poppies, inevitably decay. We had the opportunity to sit down with Silvia Cubina to give us an inside look at how the exhibition was put together and at the link between high fashion and high art.  Enjoy, impermanently.

What is the balance between highlighting the craft that is put into both the works of clothing and of art versus illuminating the project, the aesthetic, the big-picture questions and similarities?

As with all exhibitions, the answer is in the curatorial statement: What is the exhibition about? What does it want to communicate? What do the artists want to say? Should this require balancing form, function and concept or is this best done by emphasizing one aspect over the other? The bottom line of an exhibition is communication. What is the best way to communicate the goal of an exhibition? Sometimes this requires balancing the elements and other times it demands that you plunge right ahead with one clear methodology.

Is it critical for museums and galleries to allow access to pieces of high fashion in the same way that they often allow access to works of fine art?

No, not critical. The answer to your question lies in mission, what a museum’s mission is and how the curatorial voice of its exhibitions manifests this mission and how well they do it. There are wonderful museums that have niche missions, for example in photography or drawing and they are excellent. For the Bass Museum of Art, our curatorial vision encompasses art, design and fashion and to us it is critical (and quite fun!)

It seems as though fashion installations have become hugely popular for museums and galleries. Is it that the public wants to be able to see, interact with, and imagine the world of fashion in a way that was previously difficult or impossible?

Yes! people are enormously interested in fashion and design! I think it comes from familiarity and the fact that they deal with fashion and design every single day of their lives. Even unconsciously. Also, some museums are starting to look at creativity in more expansive ways, creative expression as applied to everything: digital, fashion, graphics, objects, art, etc. So, increasingly, disciplines are less and less compartmentalized.

I loved the ways in which pieces of art visual art and fashion pieces are in conversation in the installation.  Was it more important to get a sense of the literal translation of color pallet or subject (e.g. in the poppies and the orange dress) or a sense of overarching aesthetic or subject (e.g. the skeletons and the portraits or the railing and the navy blue dresses)?

No one rule fits all. Works are selected and placed alongside each other for many different reasons: aesthetics, concept and even, history. The same philosophy used to bring disciplines together is applied to bringing works together and this has to do with expanding possibilities.

Is the conversation between artists and fashion designers two-way?  We clearly see the ways in which designers are influenced by artists.  Is it as clear that artists are similarly inspired by fashion?

This is a very good question. One sees way more examples of fashion designers taking from art. There are however, numerous artists taking inspiration from fashion: Yinka Shonibare, Nick Cave, Takashi Murakami – even Warhol and Frida Kahlo

What is your favorite piece in the installation?  Or your favorite combination of pieces that play off or augment one another?  Can you share with us how this or these works came to be central to the design of the installation?

My favorite piece is Spine Corset by  Shuan Leane for Alexander McQueen. Creating a corset-vest out of a rib cage! I think the sheer creativity and utter beauty of this work speaks for itself. This is installed in a room with the Pinar Yolacan photographs. Both relate to the vanity interpretation of “vanitas” as a fleeting state, both vulnerable and dignified. Right from the beginning, these works set tone for the rest of the exhibition.

How do you see fashion and the art world moving together in the future?

I hesitate to talk about the future, as I am more a fan of the present. How about if I throw out a personal wish for the future: that we may see more and more creative interplay between art, fashion and design in exhibitions, online and in other formats that have not yet been invented.

- Joseph Osmundson