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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Aware: Art, Fashion, Identity exhibition, and Sketch pop-up cafe at The Royal Academy of Arts

Last Friday I had another successful lunchtime trip, this time to the Royal Academy of Arts specifically GSK Contemporary: AWARE ART FASHION IDENTITY. The GSK Contemporary building is located round the back of the main RA Gallery, and to get there you walk through the very tempting Burlington Arcade, which at the moment feels like it has captured the very essence of Christmas.

The show explores the use of clothing and fashion as an important marker of individuality and social identity, illustrating how fashion can communicate and reveal along with its more obvious practical function. The collection is divided into four sections: Storytelling, Building, Belonging & Confronting and Performance. With work from more than thirty international makers, there is a massive variety to admire. Among the artists there are a few names I recognised: Yoko Ono (see image above), Grayson Perry and Alexander McQueen all contribute.

The work is spaced apart, in fact I feel it gets a bit swallowed up by the very large dark rooms, and so becomes a bit lifeless. There are some amazing feats of patient craft, for example Susie Macmurray’s ‘Widow’ 2009, a magnificent silver dress made from leather and adamantine dressmaker’s pins. The garment is elegant, feminine and seductive and yet painfully repelling, with the connection of female craft and pain. Another mysterious dress hangs wilting in the first corridor. ‘Say Goodbye’, 2010 by Helen Storey is a soluble frock that hangs stagnant melting into a pot of water. I love Grayson Perry’s work and his piece in this show is no exception, his embroidered artist’s robe stands tall, decorated immaculately with big blue eyes.

I found the rest of the work a little lack lustre, although felt oddly calmed by the exhibition. There is an intriguing installation by Hussain Chalayan, ‘Son of Sonzai Suru’, 2010. It uses a traditional form of Japanese puppet theatre to examine the manipulative element of the fashion industry. A female stands in a beautiful lit dress, dark figures surround her, intruding into her space and peering within the dress. It is a haunting display that brings together different cultures and creative disciplines.

Downstairs Mayfair’s renowned restaurant, Sketch returns with its RA Sketch pop-up cafe for a second year and it has never looked better. Pierre Gagnaire has created a menu inspired by Parisian dining available for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. I had just eaten a big meal so couldn’t quite manage one of the beautiful looking cakes, but will definitely be returning to try their treats out. I loved the waitresses outfits too, they skip around in ‘labour of love' patterned jackets, fluorescent pink Converse and dinky skirts made by trendy Brick Lane designer, Twin Diverses. Their clothes are less of a uniform more of a fashion statement, very apt considering the exhibition. Despite not feeling quite as exclusive as the Mayfair joint, this pop-up Sketch is a lovely addition to the gallery space.

AWARE: ART FASHION IDENTITY and Sketch pop-up cafe will be open until 30 January 2011.

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