The Museum of Modern Art Announces Design Exhibition: Items: Is Fashion Modern?

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In December of 2017, The Museum of Modern Art will present Items: Is Fashion Modern?, an exhibition that will consist of a selection of 99 garments and accessories that have had a strong impact on history and society in the 20th and 21st centuries, and continue to hold currency today. The exhibition will examine the way in which these wearable items are designed, manufactured, distributed, and used, while exploring the wide range of relationships between clothing and functionality, cultural etiquettes, aesthetics, politics, labor, economy, and technology. Designs as well-known and transformative as Levi’s 501s, the Casio watch, and the Little Black Dress, and as ancient and culturally charged as the kippah and the keffiyeh, will allow viewers to explore numerous issues to which these items have contributed, produced, and shaped over many decades.

The exhibition is organized by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, and Michelle Millar Fisher, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design. This is the first exhibition in which Antonelli—whose previous exhibitions at MoMA include SAFE: Design Takes on Risk (2005), Talk to Me (2011) and, most recently, the online project Design and Violence (2014–15)—has addressed design as it relates to fashion. MoMA’s collection includes such featured items as Nervous System’s 4-D-printed Kinematics Dress (acquired in 2014), the Fruit of the Loom T-shirt featured in Humble Masterpieces (2004), Issey Miyake’s A-POC Queen Textile (1997), and a beautiful Mariano Fortuny Delphos dress (1907).

Each of the 99 items will be explored along three tiers: archetype, stereotype, and prototype. In the exhibition, each item will be presented in the incarnation that made it significant in the last 100 (or so) years—the stereotype—accompanied by contextual material tracing back to its historical archetype. In some cases, when innovation, opportunity, or necessity call for it, the item will be complemented by a new commission, or prototype. The exhibition title—Items: Is Fashion Modern?—reprises the question that architect and curator Bernard Rudofsky raised with his 1944 MoMA exhibition Are Clothes Modern?, which is the only other time MoMA has fully addressed this field of design.

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