Thursday, September 2, 2010

Are Phoenix Museums Pandering to Pop Culture or Is Fashion Really Art?

Scott Morrow/Phosphor Photography
Models for fashion designer Camille Messina pose beside the Flor Garduno exhibit at "SMoCA Nights."
At the turn of the 20th century, high fashion was considered an art form — thanks to the likes of Parisian couturiers Paul Poiret and Jeanne Paquin, who translated artistic trends such as Orientalism into wearable designs. Today, whether fashion is an art form is debatable. In Sally Potter's mystery flick Rage, Dame Judi Dench declares that "fashion is not an art form. If it's anything at all, it's pornography to which millions of people are addicted." Considering more than 4 million viewers tuned in to last season's première of Lifetime's Project Runway, that's hard to argue.

So where does Phoenix fall in the "fashion as fine art" debate? We're one of the few cities in the nation whose major art museum has a dedicated fashion gallery. Smaller spaces such as Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art have hosted events to bring local designers and artists together, and Scorpius Dance Theatre invited fashion design into the performing arts via last season's Catwalk show. While designer Marc Jacobs has said that clothing cannot be considered art "because it is only valid if it is lived in and worn," some Phoenix arts venues treat an Armani dress with the same respect as a Warhol or a Gauguin.

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