Sunday, March 4, 2018

Adorned Archetypes at NOMA

Although Nola has long been an American epicenter when it comes to costuming, it was never much of a "haute couture” town -- so when the New Orleans Museum of Art announced that it was staging an artsy “fashion” exhibit I was skeptical. But a blurb by NOMA's decorative arts curator, Mel Buchanan, was intriguing: “This exhibition shows beauty, certainly, but also pain, humor, power, and weakness.” It also mentioned that it was divided into themes based on Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung's notions of “female archetypes.” All of which sounded a lot like costumes. In fact, this show not only blurs the boundaries between fashion and costumes, it is also an otherworldly environment in its own right. Much of it evokes props from Frederico Fellini's old psychedelic films like Juliet of the Spirits reworked into “socially conscious” outfits so outrageous that Nola may be the only place on the planet where people could actually get away with wearing them.
For instance, under the Mother Earth theme, a Sarah Burton/Alexander McQueen leafy black Floral Dress with manic multiple belt buckles, top left, looks perfect for a trip to the Rouses Market on Royal St. on a Saturday evening around Halloween, where it would fit right in. Ditto the albatross-like Charlie Le Mindu Berlin Syndrome winged headdress, top right. A Vivian Westwood Chelsea Coat, left, features a shoulder line that hangs from atop the wearer's head so it initially resembles a very tall headless female zombie -- ideal for lady restaurant workers walking home after midnight. The Explorer theme features items like Joanne Petit-Frere's Bishop Braid hair sculpture featuring a black nude model with braided hair woven into an ebony facsimile of an archbishop's hat. The Magician series features Iris van Herpen's spectacular Snake Dress, above left, with black acrylic reptilian coils that envelop the body from the lower jaw to the upper thigh like a writhing mass of pythons. Not everything is quite so carnivalesque, but, overall, this is a show that passes the Nola litmus test: it is engaging, eccentric and conducive to no end of entertaining conversational speculation. ~Bookhardt / Adorned Archetypes: Fantastical Fashions at NOMA, Through May, Through May 28, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.