23 Jul 19
The Denver Post
If you go
“World of WearableArt” continues through Sept. 22 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, 30 West Dale St., Colorado Springs. Info at 719-634-5581 or fac.coloradocollege.edu.
“World of WearableArt” is tailor-made for summer fun. As an art museum exhibit, it borders on the outer limits, but as an entertainment attraction, it rises to the top.
More than 30 outrageous outfits vie for viewers’ attention at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, all freshly arrived from New Zealand, where, it turns out, over-the-top fashion face-offs are something of a national sport. Who knew?
The kiwis, of course, who have been hosting the annual World of WearableArt design competition for three decades now. The event brings together hundreds of inventive costumers for “a theatrical extravaganza” that doubles as a reality show with more than $100,000 in prize money at stake.
The fare is something between high design and industrial craft: ball gowns made from hardwoods and fiberglass, catsuits constructed from old leather suitcases, mini-dresses weaved with pliable plastic and, in one case, a bra made from a pair of taxidermied parakeets. The only rule is that the objects have to fit on the human form; they must actually be “wearable.”
The touring version of WOW, as it’s called, is bringing a selection of winners, all housed in its museum, to venues across the globe, including this stop at the Fine Arts Center, where they’ll be on display until Sept. 22
It’s all very frothy, but also clever and surprisingly skillful, the sort of fare you might see on a runway in Paris — if all of the designers had eaten a 10mg cannabis gummy bear before they got to work.
There are outlandish looks, like Lynn Christiansen’s “Gothic Habit” from 2014, a thigh-length frock that resembles an architecturally precise Gothic cathedral, complete with columns, cornices and flying buttresses.
Or Rebecca Maxwell’s short “Noor Reverie” from 2012, which is made from polyester and vinyl and looks like a lacey Moroccan lantern.
Then there’s Stuart Johnson’s 2002 “Persephone’s Descent,” which would have the Greek goddess decked out in a suit of armor constructed from steel, brass and pewter; or Sarah Thomas’ 2009 “American Dream,” made from faux car parts, which resembles a 1950s Buick as much as it does a party dress.
They come together for a slickly-produced exhibit that keeps the lighting dim and the tech high. Accompanying the garments are interactive kiosks where visitors can tap screens and learn about the inspirations and raw materials employed by designers. The extravaganza finishes with a larger-than-life, three-channel video presentation recapping live scenes from past competitions — music, dancers and Broadway-level backdrops included.
For sure, it’s a departure for the Fine Arts Center, which long has relied on traditional painting, sculpture and ceramics to fill its massive gallery space — just the opposite of what is on display there now.
The museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, although it only recently came under the stewardship of Colorado College, its next-door neighbor, and it remains to be seen what impact that will have on programming in the long-term. Will it become more ponderous now that it has an academic overseer? Or will it line up more crowd-pleasing romps like this one?
Looking between the threads, it is possible to see some serious art in “World of WearableArt” — or, at least, some serious trends.
So much of the work reflects the sci-fi madness that dominates television and movies right now. These costumes are alien-friendly and battle-ready, influenced equally by the mythology-driven themes of “Game of Thrones” and the superhero sensibilities of the Marvel comics franchise.
Jane Ewers’ 2013 spiky, steel mesh “Lunanoia” would fit any of the space creatures in a Star Wars movie, while “Second Skin,” a hooded reptile suit made from lycra and sheepskin by Hayley May and Fiona Christie in 2009, might be more at home in an “Alien” film.
There are plenty of animal references, some of them very direct — including another bra made from a couple of furry rodents — and some of them more abstract, like Mary Wing To’s 2011 “Hylonome,” a tribute to the legendary female centaur and a nod to the art of saddlery. It has an equine headpiece and a skirt made from horsehair and studded brown leather.
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And, of course, many are earth-friendly, recycling everything from mason jars to belt buckles. Xiao Tong Guo’s 2013 “Born to Die” transforms thousands of white, plastic cable ties — the kind that might be used to organize wires around the house — into a see-through frock topped with a bowed bonnet.
The show is arranged so viewers can experience it head-to-toe. The mannequins — all model-thin and low-gloss black — are placed in the center of the room, allowing 3-D inspection. Viewers can get up close, just inches away, to see the craftsmanship of the clothing, which can be impressive.
“World of WearableArt” is meant to be a bit weird. It’s full of pretend, and only a little pretentious. It’s different than the super-serious fashion shows that have hit other museums lately.
Still, it’s a destination exhibit, especially for folks along the Front Range, and likely will appeal to anyone who appreciated the recent Dior or Yves Saint Laurent retrospectives at the Denver Art Museum.
It’s definitely not as lofty, or as scholarly. But it’s more boisterous. And very summer.
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