Review: ‘What Artists Wear,’ by Charlie Porter
, 2022-05-12 09:00:19,
Jean-Michel Basquiat liked his clothes the way he liked his art: “oversized, off-kilter, chaos in control.” His paint-stained, joint-burned outfits were highly crafted, and often expensive — he favored the designs of Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons — but they never lost the spirit of his former homelessness: “Always dress just in case,” he’d say. “I might have to sleep on the street.”
In WHAT ARTISTS WEAR (Norton, $30), the British fashion journalist and art curator Charlie Porter treats his subjects as more than just “style icons.” Making art can be isolating, dispiriting, consuming, he says. What a person wears while doing it, whether a smock or blue jeans or couture, is “a testament to this fearlessness, this focus.”
It’s also a testament to their humanity: a response to the canon of deified white men, a reminder that all artists are mere mortals with bodies that need covering just like ours. What adorns the nonmale (Louise Bourgeois, Mary Manning), nonwhite (Tehching Hsieh, Alvaro Barrington) bodies in this book is as much self-expression as resistance.
“What can these artists tell us about how we all wear clothes,” Porter asks, “all of us who try to pretend we’re not performing, all of the time?”
At the Area party for Keith Haring’s new POP shop in New York City in 1986, Basquiat’s look is pure instinct, and aesthetic: the shirt and trousers of mismatched plaid, underneath a slouchy jacket (probably Comme des Garçons) and a hat by Kazou. The juxtaposition makes the artist Francisco Clemente, to his right, look more like an accountant, in his stiff, starchy-looking suit and tie.
“Attack clothes,” Cindy Sherman scrawled in her notebook in 1983: “ugly person (face/body) vs fashionable clothes.” The same year, she…
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