Outside the White Cube: The Commingling of Art and Fashion

Outside the White Cube: The Commingling of Art and Fashion

Text and photography by Leslie Zhang

Printed Matter’s Los Angeles Art Book Fair, which ran February 24-26, was just as ripe for people watching as it was for book browsing. While the fair was obviously centered around art books, there was an underlying emphasis on style. People came to see, but also to be seen. A unisex uniform emerged from the crowd: a ribbed beanie, a denim or leather jacket tossed over a hoodie or a tucked tee, tapered bottoms (either carefully rolled or artfully chopped to reveal the perfect slice of white socks), and thrashed Vans – the epitome of laidback Los Angeles cool.

I wondered if people dressed up for the fair. Events in the art realm generally seem to encourage a form of sartorial code-switching: my former high school classmates will swap out their day-to-day Lululemon leggings for button-down suede skirts and wide brimmed hats for days at the museum. I was certainly more conscious of my clothing when I was at the fair than when I’d been getting dressed that morning or when I was walking with a friend to get Chinese food afterwards.


Perhaps it is the unsoiled starkness of gallery spaces combined with the art world’s infamous stereotype of intellectual snobbery that pressures attendees to play dress up. “Art exists in a kind of eternity of display,” Brian O’Doherty writes in his book Inside the White Cube. “This eternity gives the gallery a limbolike status; one has to have died already to be there. Indeed the presence of that odd piece of furniture, your own body seems superfluous, an intrusion.” Clothing choices simultaneously become a form of armor and a means for the intrusive figure to blend in ever so slightly more with their surroundings.

It would be lazy to dismiss the longstanding ties between art, literature, and fashion. Frequently, those who revel in museums or bookstores hold a similar appreciation for a finely tailored jacket or the unusual drape of a t-shirt. I was flipping through a Daido Moriyama photobook when another fairgoer tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could snap a photo of the Issey Miyake bomber I was wearing. Formal lines between fashion and art have been smudged over the decades – Rick Owens’ furniture collection being displayed a few steps away from the LAABF at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Pacific Design Center, Helmut Lang shredding six thousand garments from his archives to create installation art, Ruby Sterling’s iconic work for Raf Simons, John Galliano’s collaboration with artist Benjamin Shine for Maison Margiela’s 2017 spring couture show, and Korean-British model Sang Woo Kim’s dual career as a working artist are just a handful of examples.


And this informal exchange between art and fashion isn’t one directional; texture, color, and drape have never been exclusive to clothing, which was readily apparent when flipping through the publications at the LAABF. Exhibitors such as MACK, which publishes work from “writers, artists, and curators,” presented publications with an undeniable eye for design. A book such as photographer Aleix Plademunt’s Almost There  with its black and white depictions of skulls, bones, caverns, snow dusted landscapes, and volcanic rocks – feels like it could be a dream mood board for the aforementioned Rick Owens. As the LAABF demonstrated, boundaries between art and fashion have and will continue to be crossed, hinting at a near future in which the distinctions between the two are rendered obsolete. 


Text and photography by Leslie Zhang.

March 18, 2017