Rodarte: States of Matter
MOCA – Pacific Design Center
It is widely disputed how many seasons Los Angeles has, but it actually has five: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Awards season. Awards season affects many aspects of life in LA, from street closures and parties to other cultural organizations like museums. LACMA has a small unabashed installation of Larry Fink Oscar party photographs to commemorate the season. The FIDM Museum and Galleries has its annual exhibition of Art of Motion Picture Costume Design, which features costume design from 2010 films. But another show across town may be stealing some of FIDM’s thunder. On view until June 6th, Rodarte: States of Matter at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center outlet features work from Rodarte’s Fall 2008, Spring 2010, and Fall 2010 collections—as well as costumes from 2010’s humungous ballet film Black Swan.
I’m ashamed to admit this was my first time visiting MOCA’s PDC location. I went also to see the nearing-completion, and now-leasing Red Building. The building is awesome despite LA’s helipad rule, which mandates all buildings 75 feet or higher have a helipad for fire safety. A major limitation for cool architectural design in LA…
And back to fashion. From LACMA’s major acquisition of European fashion and its subsequent exhibition, to the De Young’s now regular fashion shows, fashion exhibitions in art museums are huge, especially this summer. MOCA’s Rodarte show has the additional (local) ingredients of celebrity and Hollywood, which Deitch has steadily been infusing into MOCA. For more proof check out photos from the opening.
The installation was designed by runway producer Alexandre de Betak, founder of Bureau Betak. De Betak is responsible for making MOCA’s space look like a Rodarte showroom. Perhaps in an effort to legitimize fashion as art, the intro text to the exhibition includes a list of Rodarte’s inspirations: Japanese horror films, the California landscape, and Gordon Matta Clark…
Once you get through the ante chamber/gift shop (where Rodarte sweatshirts are on sale), the first floor gallery is painted all black, with spotlights fixed on a tableaux of tutus and gowns. These black garments are hung from the ceiling on wires over a black reflective floor. The tutus are attached to rotors so they spin spookily. I agree Rodarte won’t get the recognition it deserves for the design of the Black Swan costumes, this show is something of a remedy for that fact. A wall label says the tutus are “unaltered from the feature film,” yet they look nothing like the tutus I remember from the movie. The construction and the detail of the black tutus, the raw edges, and the humble materials integrated with other fabrics like leather (?) and of course feathers—all of this is lost on film. These details are the major reason to go see this show.
Another detail you might have missed in the movie: the tutus were bedazzled in Swarovski crystals. Swarovski has been getting its crystal into all aspects of luxury goods, from fashion to interior design, to art, mostly because of the aggressive branding efforts of Nadja Swarovski. Let’s talk sneaky product placement. Remember the earrings Natalie Portman’s character steals from Winona Ryder’s character?—Swarovski. Or those chandeliers used as part of the stage sets in the transformation scene?—Swarovski. And surprise, Swarovski is one of the sponsors of this exhibition, that’s called integrated strategic marketing.
Upstairs, three displays almost fill the all-white gallery. The first display is a collection of six white dresses, again floating on wire from the ceiling. This arrangement is bookended on both sides by racks of horizontal florescent tubes, which flicker white, purple and sometimes even black. Another arrangement pairs two white tutus in front of another florescent light rack. The third display is the most dramatic. Two white dresses stabbed with red are paired with the coup de grâce, the blood stained tutu from the finale scene of Black Swan. More florescent tubes lay in a random heap beneath the dresses, these ones red.
The use of florescent tubes is not shocking, considering Alexandre de Betak used them in the Fall 2011 Rodarte runway show. However, in the context of MOCA, one can’t help but be reminded of Dan Flavin. The fluorescent tubes have come full circle (twice), from humble utilitarian object, to contemporary art object, to high fashion, and back again to contemporary art. The major difference between Flavin and this installation is the show’s lights flicker suddenly and turn on and off rapidly. This constantly floods the gallery in shifting colors, red, purple, total darkness and then blinding white. (The sound of the electric currents whipping through the tubes is a bit distracting.) The lights required a warning about the usage of strobes at the exhibition’s entrance. I can’t image it is fun to be the guard in this gallery; the attending guard was wearing some dark shades when I was there. How LA.
– H. I.