Clothes as sculpture: Judith Shea | AT THE MUSEUM


I had a job once at the UN, and I was just
in charge of design, which meant display and whatever. And we got things from, a lot of times, through
the embassies. I was fascinated by all the…particularly
the textiles and the clothing. And I started creating a kind of synthesis
in my mind about structurally, you know, and throughout history and around the world, that
a piece of clothing could be defined as a piece of cloth and how you wrap it around
yourself. Like, a late version would be the toga, the
Roman toga, but an early version would be like an Indian sari. And then, simple structural interventions,
like in this case, to make a pair of pants you need something that basically has movement
this way and this way, right? So “The Four Continents” is a loosely
based idea of, you know, your idea of a pair of pants would be different depending on where
you came from. In some ways, it’s abstraction, it’s minimalism. I was using a lot of details of the same vocabulary. The jackets, particularly, because when they’re
on a figure they’re not at all geometric. They’re abstract, but in a different way. These triangles which are the gussets, they
make for movement. So when the figure is in this, it all sort
of, it’s a vortex that goes to the point of the triangle there at the neck, because the
shoulders, nobody has perfectly right angle shoulders. Well, I was in this kind of netherworld. It’s…this doesn’t exist anymore because
now, clothing in the art world, it’s a whole genre, really. Whether it’s dealt with as fashion, or whether
it’s dealt with as clothing for some other use. But that was not true then, which is part
of why I was really so lucky to be in this. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit
hole. You know, like, “Oh, there’s not nothing down
here. There’s like a world down here.” I really wasn’t versed in the vocabulary of
minimalism and whatever the more conceptual version of it was. But I was living in the time, so I was a part
of the times anyway. And it was in some way, I was thinking the
same way, and that was part of what artists helped me to see, was that…I think it was
Richard [Nonas] who’d say, “You’re thinking like an artist.” They’re really like structural studies in
some way. That’s what I think the sculptors made me
understand. I was doing this thing, and it had this incredible
resemblance to the same way of thinking. So, yeah, definitely timing. Even if I were doing this, and I was living
in a different place, it would have been… It could have stayed in a chest for years.

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