Friday, March 20, 2015

The Total Look at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Recalling a wondrous moment 
in American wearable art

The Entrance
     The Cincinnati Art Museum leaps back to the ‘60s with The Total Look.  It focuses on the troika collaboration between clothing designer Rudy Gernreich, photographer William Caxton, and model Peggy Moffitt.  With great prescience, Moffitt kept the legal rights to the clothes she famously wore for Gernreich and they are the foundation for this exhibit.  Another featured colleague is Vidal Sassoon, whose
hairstyles may be the most remembered element from that era, but are actually the least important.  

The Total Look
     Gernreich’s designs were about two to four years ahead of the international fashion cycle, but other designers (some American as well as Europeans Yves St. Laurent and Mary Quant) received greater acclaim for his original ideas.  
The Monokini
However, the monokini stands as his alone.  It’s also known as the topless bikini.  Gernreich’s philosophy was to remove the sense of gender and de-sexualize the body.  His clothes were either form fitting – all of the Mod midi-skirts and evening dresses – or loose – the caftans and some of the pantsuits.  

The Reversible Coat Dress and Belt (far right)
Barbra Streisand
The Reversible
Coat Dress and Belt
for Show magazine—1964
     The materials he used varied from natural materials to nylons and plastics.  This allowed him to further realize his revelation of the human form through cut outs, which have made a resurgence lately, and the not so timeless see-through layers.  What still astonishes is his color sense both in solids and patterns.  Caxton’s sharp lines and high contrast in the short film “Basic Black” and his fashion photography places the clothes in a direct line from classical Greek.  Moffitt’s make-up looked both like Kabuki and also like Pierrette from the commedia dell’arte.  

Marlene Dietrich Suit
     The exhibition has the same high definition in its lines and white on white surroundings as the photo shoot backgrounds from that era.  There is a warning for parents of small children because of the monokini photo, I guess.  This seems disingenuous to me when the first two works one sees when entering the museum on the first floor are the naked Roman guy sculpture and the ‘provocative’ (or just plain sexist) Ted Wesselman painting that’s also discreetly placed in an alcove.  

    Masterpieces of Japanese Art is the other major exhibition on display currently.  Somehow, that gallery has visually been reduced in size.  Covering hundreds of years of a culture in a few artworks was simultaneously more ambitious and reductive than I expected.

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