For the second time in a year and a half, an examination of fashion as a source, conduit, and outcome has overtaken the Dallas Contemporary. Opening a dense, twenty-six year retrospective of work by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin alongside a more focused exhibition of prints and objects by K8 Hardy, the Contemporary solidifies its objective to reflect Dallas’ fascination with fashion and retail in its programming.
Exhibited previously in Amsterdam and Sao Paulo, Pretty Much Everything finds a complicated rest in Dallas, brimming with a wide range of Inez and Vinoodh’s commercial and artistic endeavors in photography and video. Due to tight spacing between prints, the installation acquires characteristics akin to a film strip, pulling the visitor around the galleries and down the main hall. Randomly organized in terms of scale and content, a fragmented narrative endures dramatic shifts from intimate Polaroids to large format C-prints and back. While this disjointed cinematic experience initially intrigues, it fails to sustain an entire visit.
At over three hundred works, the pace and plan of the exhibition requires tremendous patience to absorb. As long strands of non-sequiturs, these photographs struggle to maintain presence as singular works in such close quarters. We see clearly that Inez and Vinoodh have enjoyed a long and grand career, but individual images flatten and diffuse more often than they startle and strike. In comparison, the ideal format in which to reflect on the work might be the three volume publication by Taschen that shares the show’s title. At a consistent scale, free of the mishmash of frames and opulent title cards, the works are presented one page at a time, allowing for digestible pairings and thoughtful associations. (Though at a base price of 700, it will remain out of reach for most admirers.)
With such a strong focus on unpredictability in the two main galleries, it’s unclear why the bulk of the black and white portraits of celebrities were selected to hang as a group in the hallway. Though offering a moment of rest and concentration, this decision weakens the resolve of the disordered presentation in the larger galleries—leaving one to wonder why other bodies of work (such as the Final Fantasy or Me series) aren’t displayed collectively.
In lining the entire museum space, works edge a bit too close to fire extinguishers, digital signage, exposed plumbing, corners, and doorways—appearing forcefully stubborn rather than intentional. This decision to flood the walls cannot simply take refuge in the words “pretty much everything” without causing the title to feel more careless than celebratory.
Spacing issues take the greatest toll on what Inez and Vinoodh term “sculptographs,” pieces in which assorted materials emerge from or contend with the surface of canvas-stretched or glass-framed prints. Due to the considerable size and aggressive character of the metal form and human image, I Love You is able to compete with surrounding works, but other dimensional collages appear as flimsy, odd interruptions in the sea of polished prints. There is also no time to recover from some of the more disturbing depictions of children (i.e. A Two-Tone Stretch Satin and Lace Pantsuit by Bertrand Marechal and The Widow (Red)), which casts a brooding tone on neighboring works.
Perhaps the only piece which is given enough space to fully resonate is Me Kissing Vinoodh (Lovingly). Along with two other variations (Passionately and Eternally), this portrait of the couple introduces the images in both large galleries, prefacing the retrospective with the tremendous love and partnership shared by Inez and Vinoodh. In Passionately, Vinoodh wears a digital veil of erasure, while in Lovingly and Eternally, separation occurs through nudity and paint, respectively. Evoking the drama and dynamic of Rene Magritte’s The Lovers, the couple enact a paradox of presence and absence, framed by time’s endlessness.
With Magritte in mind, veiled faces take on new meaning as they repeat throughout the exhibition, notably appearing in Christiaan as Matisse in his Garden. Along with Matisse and Magritte, there are numerous visual quotes and references to other art giants like Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, and Duane Hanson. Too many themes cross-pollinate and magnify to count, and nearly every photo and video features someone famous, making for a rewarding scavenger hunt for celebrity.
Despite the drawbacks of the installation, Pretty Much Everything makes a strong case for the plasticity of photography—Inez and Vinoodh exude an admirable ease with varied modes of making, allowing their life’s work to fall into many simultaneous categories. If you doubt the significance their work, just pick up any popular fashion magazine and browse through the pages after visiting Pretty Much Everything. You’ll find countless generic approaches that pale in comparison to the palette, gestures, environments, and moods crafted by the duo.
In a smaller gallery adjacent to the chatter of confident characters and cool digital manipulations, K8 Hardy’s September Issues discretely provides a counterpoint to Pretty Much Everything, questioning the conventions of fashion advertising and the confusing lure of material goods.
Surrounded by a slick faux advertising campaign for K8 Hardy handbags, ceramic assemblages atop three pedestals disarm and delight. Composed mostly with shards of what appear to be thrift store grade baubles, each untitled assortment is refreshingly ugly—especially in the way they’re propped up with plexiglass stands. A small “K” (either comically painted or serendipitously found) brands a hi-top sneaker, while a pale hand models the strap of a blue bag. Cups, turtle shells, tiny purses and a high heel are the many tired faces of these nascent figurines.
Cobbled together in a similar spirit and palette, Hardy’s wardrobe and line of handbags comprise ten life size prints where highly saturated colors emit an unsettling yet wise light. Cleverly naming the light-box images of purses Credit Default Swaps, Hardy teases out the idea of exchange with a direct appeal to Dallas, Texas (Credit Default Swap DTX). Having been divided, switched, and cheaply rejoined, each handbag forms an apt symbol for contemporary consumption, materialism, and identity.
In the works titled September Issues 1-7 (a reference to the year’s thickest release for fashion magazines), Hardy examines the role of models such as those photographed by Inez and Vinoodh. Strangely aloof or half-hearted, Hardy holds on to each purse and looks beyond the consumer (of fashion, culture, and art) with a sense of knowing—she can name our weaknesses, desires, biases, and habits. Her personas give voice to the inevitable melancholy generated in the rest of the museum by the gaze of bodies striving to be made visible for the sake of a product.
Though not directly part of September Issues, models sporting the same sort of clothing and hairstyles will perform in a runway show this Thursday at Dallas Contemporary’s Legendary event honoring the late Nancy Hanley. For those unable to witness Hardy’s fashion in motion, the artist is scheduled for a Chit Chat this Sunday the 7th at 1:00 pm. Come with adequate time and energy for both exhibitions and start thinking of questions for Inez and Vinoodh, who are tentatively scheduled for a talk on October 20th.
Image at top: Inez & Vinoodh, Freja and Raquel with Tourists by Duane Hanson, W Magazine, 2009. Pigment print.
All photos by Andi Harman