Considerably more profound than one might expect, Aware: Art Fashion Identity at the Royal Academy of Arts sets an often haunting and thoroughly thought provoking tone as it examines how artists and designers (and indeed those of us who merely dress ourselves each day) use clothing – both deliberately and unconsciously – to express status, aspiration and desire.
Central to the exhibition's theme is the give and take between individuality and social identity. A twin necked “Schizo-Pullover” by Rosemarie Trockel, Grayson Perry's “Artist's Robe” (a luxuriant and wizardly appliquéd coat), and Lucy Orta's super pragmatic “Anticipating Accessories (Kits)” each suggests the blend of position and need people wear on their sleeves (so to speak).
Perhaps chintzy upon first approach, Susie MacMurray's “Widow”, an elaborate dress made with thousands of stitching needles with their points exposed, shimmers like cheap tinsel but makes clear an aggressive message of defensive while Alexander McQueen's “Red Lace Dress Covering Head” (from “Joan”, AW98, 1998) reveals almost as much as it eerily, beguilingly conceals. But these are just a tiny sampling of the 30 international contemporary practitioners with works in this show. It's all fascinating, compelling and worth viewing (even for … maybe even especially for … non-fashionistas).
Divided into four sections (Storytelling, Building, Belonging and Confronting and Performance), Aware: Art Fashion Identity opens tomorrow, 2 December, and runs until 30 January 2011 at the Royal Academy of Arts (6 Burlington Gardens, W1S 3EX). A full range of events surrounds this exhibition – there's even a pop-up cafe compliments of Mayfair's fashionable Sketch restaurant. Visit www.royalacademy.org.uk for details.
Photo of Alexander McQueen's “Red Lace Dress Covering Head”/Chris Osburn