AHA Alum Helena Roy reviews the V&A’s ‘Horst: Photographer of Style’

If fashion is most often a triumph of style over substance, the V&A shows Horst P. Horst’s photography to be the very substance of style, and the redemption of the materialistic.

In 1930, aged 24, Horst moved to Paris. Attractive, urbane and in search of experimental aesthetic, Horst was absorbed into a bohemian clique that included many renowned people who would shape his career. Baron George Hoyningen-Huene, a photographer for Vogue Paris, became his lover and mentor; Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was a lifelong friend and champion.

Gloria Vanderbilt, photographed in 1941 by Horst. American Vogue captioned: 'She is dark and beautiful, seventeen years old'.
Gloria Vanderbilt, photographed in 1941 by Horst. American Vogue captioned: 'She is dark and beautiful, seventeen years old'.

Horst began his career as the era of photography began to eclipse graphic illustration in magazines. Fashion week in the 1930s was absent of the model hysteria it has today. Modelling was in its infancy as a profession, and to avoid inconveniencing haute couture clients, models were shot in the studios at night. The black and white nocturnal photographs are sensual and atmospheric, with lighting that is intense without harshness.

The exhibition is large and laid out according to theme. Photographs move from elegant chiaroscuro to the surrealism of the Dali years. Whimsical elements increasingly infused Horst’s 1930s work, making the commercial mystical: tasked with cataloguing nail varnish, he creates impossible patterns with layered hands; mirrors in dark, cluttered attics reflect blue skies and bright clouds.

Salvador Dalí-designed costumes for Léonide Massine's ballet Bacchanale, 1939

The centrepiece of Horst’s legacy and the V&A’s exhibit is the ‘Mainbocher Corset’ (1939). Madame Bernon wears a Mainbocher corset, assuming the role of Venus with perfect statuesque proportion. The last photograph Horst shot in Paris before the war, it epitomises the end of a charmed era. Melancholy and seductive, it was retouched to make the corset cling to Madame Bernon’s body; but the original has a loose provocativeness that is more striking.

Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher (unedited), 1939

The 1940s present a mess of fractured wartime motifs and icons of the silver screen. Horst trained with the army in Fort Belvoir, accepted US citizenship and worked as a photographer for army magazines. Photographs of Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth hang opposite landscapes of ruined Persepolis (then recently uncovered) and the newly established state of Israel.

Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1942
View of ruins at the palace of Persepolis, Persia, 1949

Straying from the fashion he was known for, the V&A presents close up ‘Patterns from Nature’, repeated and panned out to replicate gothic architecture. Along with Horst’s collection of nudes, the sheer skill in artistic composition underlines the integrity of his fashion photography, in an era that was steeped in commercialism.

'Patterns from Nature' Photographic Collage, about 1945

The V&A’s exhibit imparts a loose sense of the man behind the camera. Handsome and elusive, there are a few childhood pictures of Horst, scattered objects and the rare glimpse of him on a fashion shoot. But personality leaps forth with endearing anecdotes. Horst once visited Chanel in her studios to shoot some jewellery she had designed. He sat, chatting to her, playing with a bit of putty they were using to model the jewellery. A few weeks later she gifted him a cigarette lighter. She had moulded it on the putty he had left behind so it fit perfectly into his fist; he carried it throughout the war.

Horst directing lights and cameras on a fashion shoot with model Lisa Fonssagrives, New York, 1949

The penultimate room in the exhibition pops with 1950s colour. As fashion crossed the Atlantic to settle in New York instead of Paris, technicolour entered the mass media. Ninety-four Vogue magazine covers, and 25 giant photographs are blown up with jewel tones. Some are overlaid with murals, making haughty models the centre of easels.

'Summer fashions' for American Vogue, May 15, 1941

Horst’s fashion has a spontaneous feel. It has no desperation or need for immediate admiration, but is confident and considered. There is an inexhaustible thirst for the ground-breaking, but not necessarily the brand new, original, garish or shocking. With no vindictive internet audience to please, art was able to permeate his work as the world moved at a stunning, sloping pace.

Model Carmen Dell’Orefice on shooting with Horst, opening the exhibition and staying young: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29017638

‘Horst: Photographer of Style’ will run at the V&A until 4th January 2015. For more information visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-horst-photographer-of-style/

 

With thanks to Conde Nast Horst Estate for photographs.

Celebrity Art Charades: an AHA tradition in fashion shoots – by Helena Roy

When I did my AHA course in the summer of 2012, an evening activity we were introduced to was (prosecco-fuelled) ‘Art Charades’. The group splits into judges and two teams, and each takes turns re-enacting artistic masterpieces live on the streets of Venice, Florence or Rome (much to the amusement of perplexed locals).

Art Charades on the AHA Northern Italy course 2012

It seems the fashion world has been at it too – albeit on a slightly more professional scale. Artists from Salvador Dali to Barbara Kruger have been invited to direct fashion shoots. Throw celebrities into the mix, and their recreations comprise a hilarious, odd, fantastical and real-life response to visual fictions.

Saoirse Ronan as Sir John Everett Millais' 'Ophelia' (1851-1852) in Vogue December 2011 by Steven Meisel
Modelling Roy Lichtenstein in Zink magazine by Mike Ruiz
Angela Lindvall as Andrew Wyeth's 'Christina's World' (1948), Vogue October 1998 by Carter Smith

A recent cover shoot for US Vogue depicted Jessica Chastain in a series of art-inspired portraits; striking poses from Matisse, to Van Gogh and Klimt. Models have recreated works from Magritte to Vermeer‘Girl with a pearl earring’ is a fashion favourite, having been modelled by Julianne Moore, Katja Borghuis and Scarlett Johannson (to promote her film about the subject).

Vincent Van Gogh painted 'La Mousme' in 1888, here's Jessica Chastain recreating it in 2013
Rene Magritte's 'La Robe Du Soir' 1955 sold at Christie's in London for 1.6mn dollars in February 2010, and has not been available for public view since
On the cover of US Vogue - the inspiration was Frederic Leighton's 'Flaming June' of 1895

Mimicking paintings spreads from photography to live fashion. Marc Jacobs caused quite a stir when he sent ‘sexy nurses’ down the Louis Vuitton catwalk, inspired by Richard Prince’s ‘Nurses’ painting series. Another example would be Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian’ collection, which became the epitome of Swinging Sixties fashion.

Models present creations by US designer Marc Jacobs based on Richard Prince's 'Nurses'
Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian Dress at the V&A

Why does fashion take such obvious inspiration from art, when it is meant to be such a source of vision and creativeness itself? Perhaps to borrow some of the power of the art world’s most iconic, beloved and recognisable pieces. Or, perhaps simply for the fun of dress-up and charades…

With thanks to Vogue, W Magazine, Zink Magazine and Wikipedia for photos.

Tumblr and the New Generation – Frankie Dytor takes a look into our ‘period eye’

Visual culture in the twenty-first century is profoundly different to anything that has ever gone before it. This may seem like an obvious statement – everyone, of course, is aware of the effect that new technologies have had on our perception of art. But do we really understand the influence this has had on the nature of our ‘period’ eye, as Baxandall would say?

 

According to Baxandall, in order to best comprehend and analyse a piece of art we must understand the cultural conditions from which it was produced. (This theory, as many of you will know, he applied most famously perhaps to Renaissance Florence). It is, of course, extremely difficult – perhaps even impossible – to develop a true and unbiased understanding our own period eye.  This blog post – rather fearlessly then – is a small attempt to do just that!

Tumblr: shaping our generation's aesthetic?

 

To propose the media site tumblr as a source for shaping our culture’s period eye is maybe an exaggeration. After all, how many people does it really reach? Can we claim that it really has any effect on the production of art? Well, tumblr has an estimated 216.3 million viewers each month, with currently 108.9 million blogs and counting. Granted, this is a tiny percentage of the Western world. But it seems that those who use tumblr are generally more likely to be involved in artistic processes.

When something is treated in nail art, you know it must be popular

Firstly, it provides a platform in which budding new artists can showcase their art. There are an abundance of blogs which either belong to a specific artist, or, as is the unique nature of tumblr, display an assortment of the art that one person – artist or layman – enjoys. The effect of this is many fold. Primarily, it means that even those who do not specifically create or commission art are now being involved in the art ‘market’, if not in a commercial sense then certainly in terms of contemporary taste and sensibility. We are all aware of the profound influence of the media on young minds in shaping issues such as body image and sensationalism, but have we ever considered its effect on the aesthetic of today? Such bloggers have a huge power in shaping taste, particularly if we consider the susceptible nature of tumblr’s main demographic:teens and those in their early twenties. Its potential here is precisely why Yahoo deemed it worthy of a $1.1 billion investment.

 

Because anyone can reblog an image, tumblr may be seen as an ultimately democratic site which strips away the elitism so often attached to art. Even a thirteen year old from a small village in the countryside may become part of a cutting-edge art circle. But perhaps this carries many inherent dangers; do we want this to be the case? Is art in a sense degraded through such mass proliferation?

Maybe bloggers are the new Academicians...

Maybe the reverence and sanctity of art is slowly being degraded by mass culture. But is that really such a problem? Prints have been in circulation since the fifteenth century, although they in some sense only proved to re-enforce the distinction between art for the masses and ‘high’ art. Sites like tumblr treat both equally, and it is the viewer’s individual taste, rather than their  economic means, that determines whether they want it to be included as part of their own unique artistic profile.

 

Tumblr ultimately serves as an example of the changing way in which we may perceive art in an age where politics, art, food, fashion and more are regularly placed side by side.  Multi-media now encourages the world to engage with ‘high art’ on a day-to-day basis, rather than placing it on a pedestal. At the same time, Tumblr encourages all things to be viewed as potentially containing artistic significance. And for that, in my mind at least, it is hugely important.

Fancy entering into the world of tumblr? A few favourites……

caravaggista.tumblr.com

cestlavieparis.tumblr.com

erynlou.tumblr.com

jesusisperdu.tumblr.com

lustik.tumblr.com

r-i-n-o.tumblr.com

standingatadistance.tumblr.com

unefemmeparfaite.tumblr.com

And the most bizarre of them all….

scorpiondagger.tumblr.com

 

News from China! The Shanghai Fabric Market by Caz St Quinton

Every girl has her dream dress. Unfortunately, these dreams rarely become reality. To get a dress design tailor made is often too expensive and rarely ends up how you once imagined it. However, in the bustling fabric market in Shanghai they will make you whatever you want, in whatever fabric you want and for prices you most definitely want.

The endless choice of materials and colours from one stall

Located in a massive four storey building sit hundreds of fabric stalls that together make up the Lujiabang Lu Fabric Market. Mountains of silk, cotton and chiffron in any colour or print you can imagine are hidden away in small dens where their owners sit waiting for customers. Men can be seen choosing the right fabric for their custom made £50 suit, whilst women take in photos of the latest red carpet gown and for around £40 get a replica made to measure. Sounds of haggling can be heard from every corner as customers bargain for the best price.

A stall in the fabric market

 

When a price is agreed two tailors begin to measure every inch of their new customer, carefully recording each number and nattering away in Mandarin. Before they can begin work on the dress discussions are made about the necessity of a lining. Decisions are made about how quickly it needs to be finished. Exclamations are made when the customer shows just how high she wants the slit up the leg to be, or how low the neck line.

Any design can be copied. A favourite here is the Chanel suit.

 

Braver tourists take in their own designs drawn on pieces of
paper. Simple clear drawings are presented to the tailors in hope of avoiding
the language barrier through pictures, although they have little to fear as
their English is often very good.

A taylor stands proudly next to the finished dress

 

 

 

Excitement builds in the market when girls come to try on their finished dresses. No doubt she will attract a small crowd around her as they murmur approvingly. The magical moment when one sees a custom floor length gown fitted and designed perfectly for its loving owner and knowing that three days previously it was a mere fantasy. A dream come true for the shoppers of Shanghai.

 

 

 

 

MoCA and the Marriage Market: is Shanghai a contemporary city? AHA alum Caz St Quinton explores

As cities go, Shanghai seems about as contemporary as they get. It is known for its sky scrapers and shopping, rather than its history and culture. Proving this point, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) has been recently refurbished. It stands shiny and proud in People’s Park, whilst its neighbour the Shanghai Art Gallery glooms in its shadow with eerily empty walls, the few pieces shown often only accompanied by those fatal words: ‘artist unknown.’

MoCA in People's Park Shanghai

However, artists themselves are no longer current enough for MoCA’s impressive new exhibition called ‘Mock Up.’ In their place are ten teams of architects that have been invited to create ten different living spaces. The installations consider Chinese living spaces and the relationship between people and their contemporary living environments. Microwaves, magazines and plastic furniture replace traditional Chinese interiors.

One of the spaces at MoCA made out of magazines

There is no hint of art being intended for the academic. In fact the spaces interact with the viewer by encouraging them to sit, climb and even play. People of all ages were playing in ‘The Kids Room’; a room that hangs from the ceiling so moves with you and is filled with big yoga balls that complete strangers end up throwing at one another.

At the end if the gallery it explains that the room is designed to imitate the rocking that we feel whilst in our mother’s womb and then the cradle, although most the people inside are having too much fun to bother reading it.

A girl playing in the Kid's Room at MoCA

If it weren’t for the mysterious gathering of people opposite MoCA, one could be fooled into thinking Shanghai has turned its back on all tradition. However, stray a little from the entrance of the museum and you will stumble upon the Marriage Market.

Personal advertisements litter the  pavement and trees as parents try to find suitable matches for their child. Parents spend their weekends sat next to their laminated piece of paper which contains information such as their child’s age, job, achievements and whether they own a house or car.

A woman exploring the marriage market

They sit hoping that another parent will find their offspring suitable, if this joyous moment happens then a date is arranged. The marriage market is a last resort for some parents as traditional arranged marriages are becoming harder to organise due to the uneven demographics of the population caused by the one child policy. A problem that will only get worse with an estimated 24 million bachelors in China by 2020.

Parents display their child's information on umbrellas

In Shanghai, marriage is obviously still an indicator to success and parents using a market to achieve this leaves the MoCA viewers questioning whether Shanghai is as contemporary as they once thought.