The top five museum shows to see during Armory Week

From Dior at the Brooklyn Museum to Shigeko Kubota at MoMA

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Fitting in a Christian Dior–New York salon with (left to right) Christian Dior, Raymonde Zehnacker, Marguerite Carré, Mrs. Knoll, and Mizza Bricard, 1948 Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives. BMA artist files

Fitting in a Christian Dior–New York salon with (left to right) Christian Dior, Raymonde Zehnacker, Marguerite Carré, Mrs. Knoll, and Mizza Bricard, 1948 Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives. BMA artist files

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams

10 September-20 February 2022 at the Brooklyn Museum

The fourth presentation of the travelling blockbuster Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams opens at the Brooklyn Museum this week. This iteration focuses on the French couturier’s relationship with New York City and how the “ethos of the American woman and the feminist movement” revolutionised the Parisian fashion house, according to the curator Florence Müller, who assembled the show with Matthew Yokobosky, the museum’s curator of fashion and material culture.

A section of the exhibition is also devoted to the American photographers who captured some of the house’s most ubiquitous campaigns, comprising works such as Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris (1955)—part of a Harper’s Bazaar spread in which the supermodel Dovima wore the first dress Yves Saint Laurent designed for Dior—and works by other masters such as Annie Leibovitz and Irving Penn that aimed to empower both designer and model.

Some Dior pieces are juxtaposed with works from the museum’s permanent collection. The show parallels dresses with works by the painters Giovanni Boldini and Paul César Helleu—one of Christian Dior’s favourite artists—depicting women of the Belle Epoque. The era inspired Dior to devise what became known as the “New Look” in his first collection in 1947, comprising garments lined with petticoats and corsets that billowed out at the waist. With the opening of his second outpost on 5th Avenue in 1948, the Dior brand became globally synonymous with archetypal femininity. “Dior wanted to honour his mother and the other beautiful, elegant women of the early 1900s, the time of his childhood, and he wanted to make women beautiful and happy and to show the beauty of the female body,” Müller says.

The show also aims to demonstrate how every designer who has headed the fashion house “has responded to their times, creating a perpetually renewing brand relevance”, Yokobosky says. For example, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who became the first female artistic director when she joined Dior in 2016, forewent petticoats and instead emblazoned T-shirts with the message: “We Should All Be Feminists”.

Chiuri also collaborated with the artist Judy Chicago on a series of handbags that contain the names of women depicted in the artist’s landmark 1970s series Great Ladies, which honours remarkable women in history. The handbag project aimed to “challenge the historically oppressive nature of the fashion industry”, Chicago told The Art Newspaper in a previous interview, and “to successfully teach women’s history through purses”. Several pieces by Chicago in the exhibition serve to “provoke questions around femininity and the history of feminism” as it relates to the fashion house, Müller says.

The show tackles the brand’s triumphs—and sometimes its failures and controversies—through the lens of its various artistic directors, including John Galliano, an influential designer who led the fashion house from 1996 to 2011 and was suspended after a video surfaced of him making antisemitic remarks at a bar in Paris. “There is an equal section on each designer showing their process and legacy,” Müller says. “There are dresses by all the designers in the exhibition that show their monumental impact on the history of fashion and also broader elements of history.”

Shigeko Kubota. Video Haiku–Hanging Piece (detail with Kubota in the reflection) (1981) © 2021 Estate of Shigeko Kubota / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Shigeko Kubota: Liquid Reality

Until 1 January 2022 at the Museum of Modern Art

This is Shigeko Kubota’s first institutional US show in 25 years. Born in Japan, Kubota—who died in 2015 at the age of 77—played a pivotal role in the Fluxus movement of the 1960s. When Sony released its first portable video camera in 1967, Kubota quickly became one of the first artists to make work with it. With a background in sculpture, she embraced the physicality of both the camera itself (though billed as portable, her Sony Portapak weighed 25 pounds) and the ways she displayed her videos, incorporating them into larger sculptural objects. Six of these video sculptures, dating from 1976 to 1985, are now on view at MoMA, including Duchampiana: Nude Descending a Staircase (1976), in which four video monitors are built into a wooden staircase. The show’s title is from a quote by the artist in which she discussed how the medium of video art allowed for the “freedom to dissolve, reconstruct, mutate all forms, shape, colour, location, speed, scale”, putting the artist in control of a “liquid reality”.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Seduction of a Cyborg (1994) New Museum, New York

Lynn Hershman Leeson: Twisted

Until 3 October at the New Museum

This survey of the work of the American artist Lynn Hershman Leeson traces five decades of her practice focused on cyborgs, from early performance works to pioneering digital pieces and recent projects that use DNA as a medium. Since the 1970s, Hershman has dissected the construction of identity and the convergence of real and virtual worlds. The show begins with a work in which she portrayed a fictitious character, Roberta Breitmore, documenting Breitmore’s day-to-day life for four years, from doctor appointments to bad dates. These early explorations led Hershman to expand to digital media and interactive online works, which she helped legitimise as a medium as the digital art movement emerged in the 1990s. The Breitmore character evolved into works such as CybeRoberta (1996)—a doll with cameras for eyes which produces a livestream of those watching it. The centrepiece of the show is the installation Infinity Engine (2014-present), which replicates a genetics lab and leads to a room of photographs of genetically modified animals, exploring the moral and ethical issues around science and technology. Hershman wrote in 1998 that her work aims to “imagine a world in which there is a blurring between the soul and the chip”.

Dawoud Bey, Three Women at a Parade, Harlem, NY, from Harlem, U.S.A. (1978) Collection of the artist; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago; and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco. © Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey: an American Project

Until 3 October at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Dawoud Bey has been documenting the history of the African American experience for more than four decades. This retrospective begins with his first series of street photography taken in Harlem in 1975, and ends with his 2017 series of nocturnal landscapes, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, where he set out to visualise the path of fugitive slaves travelling under the cover of darkness towards freedom on the Underground Railroad in Ohio. In the 1990s, Bey started a series of collaborative projects. “It’s up to artists to help museums reinvent themselves,” he says.

Ilse Bing’s Self-Portrait with Leica (1931) in The New Woman Behind the Camera at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg © Ilse Bing Estate, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The New Woman Behind the Camera

Until 3 October at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This groundbreaking exhibition charts the work of more than 120 women who forged careers as photographers and contributed significantly to advances in the medium from the 1920s to the 1950s. The show brims with surprises, inviting viewers to reckon with blind spots in their understanding of that period. The exhibition is inflected not only by each woman’s unique story but by the social, political and economic tumult that framed much of their work, including the Great Depression, two world wars and the rise of Communism and Fascism. A section devoted to social documentary and reportage attests to the role of women photographers in recording critical events, and others explore topics such as the female gaze, avant-garde experimental photography and the rise of the fashion industry. Since most of the artists in the show are represented by just one or two photographs, the path to further research is wide open.

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