Monday, March 16, 2015

Jean Paul Gaultier at NGV

Before the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition left Melbourne for Paris I knew I had to see it. I had already been bombarded by images on my instagram feed and it's not often an internationally acclaimed designer comes to Australia. The last time a huge international designer was in town was possibly Walter Van Beirendonck at RMIT in 2013 and I missed seeing that which I still regret. I went in with my digital camera and high hopes for the exhibition given the encouragement NGV had given to patrons to share their photos via social media which payed off in huge dividends. I had never been to an exhibition quite like it but have been to the National Gallery of Victoria a number of times to see other collections. I was a bit surprised with the diversity of the crowd, although perhaps that has more to do with the fact I went on a Sunday afternoon instead of Friday evening. In particular I was overwhelmed by the amount of people not necessarily interested in fashion with partners in tow.

 In all honesty I was a bit disappointed with the presentation of the exhibition. Visually it was a spectacle and interesting to see Gaultier's work follow a certain kind of narrative closely entwined with his personal life but overall, not worth all the hype. The first room was saturated in a blue hue featuring mannequins with digitally projected faces featuring many of his haute couture designs and menswear pieces. Among a sea of faces was Gaultier himself with a pre-recorded welcoming message which delighted the majority of the audience and unsettled the few teenagers in the room. Unfortunately most of the preceding rooms lacked the same panache as the first and while it was breath-taking to see the dresses I had admired when buying my first fashion magazines six or seven years ago I waited in line an awfully long time to see them. I didn't like the way many of the rooms were arranged as this lead to crowding and there was no general consensus on which way the crowds should move within the space. 

 What was most frustrating was a definite lack of information regarding the different types of techniques or context in which Gaultier created. When compared with previous exhibitions such as Claude Monet with its telling accounts of Monet's personal life or the rich historical context and bibliographical references of the Italian Masters JPG at NGV simply fell short. It felt like this both discredited fashion as an art form and on the few occasions where commentary was provided it was short and pretentious. I am not interested in the celebrities Gaultier designs for, excluding Beyonce but I felt the sheer amount of times Madonna was mentioned was trivial. It didn't appear as though she had any impact on Gaultier's approach to creating clothing and was simply a walking advertisement for one of his trademark design. Honestly I would have preferred a greater emphasis on his teddy bear, Nana instead encouraging parents to nurture a similar creative process in their children.  

The mannequin studded runway was perhaps the most novel idea of the entire exhibition. With the number of people coming and going, plus the neatly arranged chairs encircling the automated pageant really made it feel like sitting in the front row. That was until other patrons annoyingly bobbed up and down ruining photographs and searching for their companions in the busy room. Although this did agitate me this was perhaps the most important symbol of the exhibition. It prescribed to the same philosophy as New York-based street style photographer Bill Cunningham who firmly believed that the clothes should be viewed from the side and back as well as the front. Cunningham also believed that clothes should take precedence over celebrity status but again that was firmly ignored in favour of the fifteen-minutes-of-fame complex.

I'm not much of a fan of Gaultier's designs simply because they seem to lack imagination from the very outset. I can understand how lovers of minimalism would fawn over nautical striped sweaters and have a better appreciation for tailoring but it made very little impression on me. His couture pieces were the most impressive but after viewing piece after piece with merely the number of hours quoted for each dress it soon lost it's appeal. The displays seemed to ignore the process of collecting inspiration through moodboards, sketches and the laborious process before the sewing even starts. I feel like this information could have been better conveyed. While I didn't think it possible I'm even less of a fan after seeing the Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture Spring 2015 beauty look in which cultural appropriation has once again been reinforced as in vogue. 

 I sincerely hope that the next fashion exhibition I attend has a little more substance than Jean Paul Gaultier had at NGV. I had so enjoyed the other tours within the very same space so it came as a bit of a shock that so much time had been invested in interior design and so little thought dedicated towards dissemination of knowledge. Although I didn't purchase the walking-tour (so I can't comment on that) many other patrons didn't either. The only times I felt enlightened were when other people around me were discussing the techniques or silhouette of each outfit sported by a size zero mannequin. It may have also had more to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the designer than the utilization of the space. Whatever the case it was still enjoyable to practice taking photographs in such a busy space but it did not feel like I enjoyed the 'full' experience.

*first photograph from, all other photographs taken by me

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