Home Artistic creation Does Martin Margiela believe in artistic production or not?

Does Martin Margiela believe in artistic production or not?



It is tempting to approach “Martin Margiela” at Lafayette Anticipations through the prism of the creator’s mythological mandate in the fashion industry, but the literature in the exhibition insists that it is a art show, so we have to evaluate it as such. Despite fashion’s outright rejection, however, Margiela’s hard landing in the contemporary art realm feels deeply haunted by her epistemologies.

The exhibit begins on a positive note, with a towering billboard-style image of a protruding deodorant stick pasted to the institution’s back wall (DEODORANT, 2021). The omnipresent feel antiperspirant – everywhere to smell but nowhere to see – seems an appropriate play on the famous designer heritage, which continues to be felt all over the fashion world while Margiela himself has kept his anonymity. Sadly, the self-reflexivity ends there, as the audience enters a grayscale maze of office shades to encounter more than 20 low-key works spread across two floors, which are featured, according to the exhibition literature, as indisputable proof that Margiela has always been an artist “with the ability to” expand the limits of the work of art “.

Martin Margiela, DEODORANT, 2021, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; photograph: Pierre-Antoine

Her series “Hair Portraits” (2015-19) sees female icons from magazines of the 1960s and 1970s manipulated so that their faces are completely covered with hair. A long-standing obsession with Margiela, hair reappears in a whole series of works, such as RED and VANITES (both in 2019), in which strangely wavy spheres in expensive-looking display cases speak, we are told, of the “shifting symbolism” of red hair and graying hair as a mark of the “passage of time” on the body feminine. This banal discourse, stripped of any real question of identity, continues throughout the exhibition. RED NAILS model (2021), for example, features enlarged false nails in a display case to form a pop-art sculpture that indicates “the creation of artificial female beauty,” and how the sexualization of women’s bodies has evolved over time. Confusingly, these ruminations on the grotesque way body – evoking the consumer comments of the 1990s by artists such as Vanessa Beecroft, the Chapman brothers and Sylvie Fleury – share space with works that differently, but just as didactically, explore the specificity of the media: “Lip Sync” (2020), for example, a series of Andy Warhol-style silicone prints with stills of lip-reading videos that make their messages forever indecipherable. Yet these seemingly arbitrary references to artistic genres and themes seem to reach little beyond the affirmation of the work’s own status as contemporary art.

Martin Margiela, RED NAILS and RED NAILS model, 2019, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; photograph: Pierre-Antoine

Interweaving these works, plinths and empty walls with delimited “missing” works of art, indicated only by their painted shadows and their wall labels. This proposed dematerialization – or refusal to materialize – of the artist’s work was perhaps more along the lines of what many of us had imagined an exhibition of Margiela, the famous anti-celebrity, would look like. . Here, however, surrounded by lavishly produced sculptures, paintings and videos that draw inspiration from the artistic practices of the 1990s with a shameless free hand, the logic of this “institutional criticism” not only crumbles, but points to it. directly to the existential question of the exhibition: does Margiela believe in artistic production, or not?

Martin Margiela, Torso I-III, 2018-21, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; photograph: Pierre-Antoine

In its engagement with the contemporary art toolbox, the show can be read at best as naïve. By completely relegating fashion and portraying herself as a longtime visual artist who “worked” in fashion, Margiela exposes the superficiality of her concerns: The artist’s much-lauded defamiliarization tactic worked effectively in the dramaturgy of fashion precisely because this feeds on the perpetual renewal of its own metaphors. In art, these tactics end up evoking, perhaps accidentally, long-established historical discourses of art – surrealism, institutional criticism, postmodernism – of which the artist has limited understanding or has adopted as a gimmick. It’s ironic that, despite Margiela’s continued anonymity, it’s identity – a fictionalized and marketable identity – that seems to be the most important and affirmative product of this exhibition.

Martin Margiela ‘is on view at Lafayette Anticipations until January 2, 2022.

Image and thumbnail of Hed: VANITES, 2019, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp; photograph: Pierre Antoine



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