This year, the Gagosian Gallery published a special edition Frieze newspaper. It’s an exciting venture that has unprecedented access to some of the art world’s most important contemporary artists, including Ed Ruscha (who’s work is the focus of the Gagosian booth at the Frieze Art Fair), Urs Fischer, Glenn Brown, Jeff Koons and Dan Colen. Richard Prince himself contributed his own prose. I wrote several pieces in the paper, including the one excerpted here on the opening of the Met gala. (See my Met gala pictures here.) I spoke to Harold Koda, the bigwig at the Costume Institute, about Charles James, the tortured genius that is the focus of this year’s show, and about Anna Wintour, who the costume center has been recently renamed after. And for good reason, according to Koda. Be sure to pick up a copy of the newspaper at any of the gallery’s outposts around the world, and at the fair. And, as always, for more information on our artists and upcoming shows, go to Gagosian.com Before Frieze, this week will be about fashion. On Monday, May 5th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s newly renamed Costume Institute will hold a star-studded opening for their show Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The gala, hosted this year by Bradley Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Aerin Lauder, Oscar de la Renta, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and Vogue’s Anna Wintour, has become known as the party of the year. High fashion teams up with Hollywood, all in the name of fundraising for one of the country’s most important museum resources for the decorative arts.
The real star of Monday night, however, is a man who’s name has been, until now, only familiar to fashion historians. Charles James (1906 – 1978) was the preeminent fashion designer of the mid-twentieth century, dressing high-society ladies in complex, revolutionary ball gowns and convertible separates. According to the Costume Instituttes’ curator in charge, Harold Koda, James’s skill transcended that of a fashion designer. “No one worked like he did. His constructions, his clothes, are outside of traditional fashion. He was an artist.” Indeed, the name of the show, Beyond Fashion, came from a title the designer chose for his unpublished, unfinished autobiography.
Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, agrees: “James considered himself an artist, and approached fashion with a sculptor’s eye and a scientist’s logic.” Before he died, James was aware his legacy would be the artistry of his designs – as opposed to just a name stitched on a fashion label – which is why he directed so many of his pieces to academic institutions, namedly the Brooklyn Museum, which kept in its permanent collection many of his most breathtaking gowns (worn by such clients as Austine Hearst, Millicent Rogers, and Dominique de Menil), until the Metropolitan acquired the collection in 2009. (James has been the focus of two large-scale retrospectives: at the Brooklyn Museum in 1982, and at the Chicago History Museum two years ago.)
In his professional life, however, James vacillated between celebrated artist and fashion’s ultimate pauper. His last studio was a derelict room in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, where he worked until he died amid much more meager circumstances than he knew at the height of his career. (This show features some partically completed works that were discovered there posthumously.) He was famously difficult to work with, despite receiving many awards for his work and retaining a top-notch clientele. “Hubris? Yes, he was known to be an egomaniac in many aspects of his life, and as a business partner, he was a nightmare,” Koda explains. “But he really approached the making of clothes as an artist. He would look at designs for decades. There are certains designs that he began in 1929, that he finished in the ‘50s, even after he closed his house. That’s truly exploring a concept.”
The show opens to the public on May 8 in a recently refurbished and renamed space of the musum: the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Naming the gallery after the legendary Vogue editor and current artistic director of Conde Nast was a no-brainer, according to Koda. As a Met trustee since 1999, and a chair of the Costume Institute gala since 1995, Wintour has raised more than $125million for the institute alone. “We have always been able to count on the support of one person, and that’s Anna,” Koda says. “We’re here because she is.”