Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee.
It’s midnight after the opening of the international touring exhibition “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” at the Dallas Museum of Art, and I am not going to bed until I can find the yellow tartan plaid cape I’ve had since the 60s. Thank goodness I still have my camouflage shirt. And I cannot believe I threw away those torn fish-net stockings. Those, too, looked terrific on Gaultier’s mannequins. And what mannequins! They talk. They sigh. They laugh. They pout. Thirty mannequins are enlivened by the use of video projections, reminding one of the art work of contemporary artist Tony Ousler, whose projections onto formless stuffed surfaces have been collected by the art world for years.
So, are Gaultier’s mannequins art? Are the fashion creations art? Gaultier says, “no”. Interim DMA Director Olivier Meslay says, “yes,” and Andy Warhol said “yes” as well.
With 130 ensembles displayed in six galleries within six themes, you will hardly have time or inclination to ponder that provocative question while visiting Gaultier’s world of wonder. You will wonder, however, who would ever wear these creations. Well, at least half the beautiful women at the opening party were wearing Gaultier. But the artist himself says that he actually prefers models who are not conventionally beautiful. He looks for the unusual. He looks for a model with personality and a unique character. He says, “Let’s show your difference.”
Inspired and indulged by his grandmother and mother, Gaultier looked longingly and quizzically at their corsets. He was drawn to the lacing and the mystery of the hidden garment. So he took them – the corset and the chemise – out of the closet and into the sun. Actually, he has been referred to as “smiling sunshine.” And he keeps us smiling by confronting us with the unconventional, as he and his moving mannequins wink at us wearing corsets, brassieres, religious symbols, flounces, feathers, leathers, leopard, gowns we can see through and underwear as outerwear. The fantasy world of Jean Paul Gaultier – “a courtier with a punk soul” – is presented as fun. (The weightier issues of gender equality, censorship, prejudice and tolerance we’ll save for another day and another discussion.) This night was made for a party.
And how did the party land here? Luckily for us, Meslay knows Nathalie Bondil, the Director of the Montreal Museum. She initiated the exhibit and he convinced her to send it on to Dallas with, I guess, a Texas sized “y’all come” in his delightful French accent. Dallas is one of the only two U.S. stops for the show. It opens in San Francisco in March after closing at the DMA Feb. 12.
So, is the show to shock? Is it applauding free expression? A rally against suppressed sexuality? Anti-religion? A marketing opportunity in difficult economic times?
All questions to ponder. But one thing is for sure – the fun has returned to the DMA.