The Ministry of Artistic Affairs
Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Curiously enough, Jean Paul Gaultier’s opulent retrospective is notable not just for the stunning clothes, which he has produced since his first 1976 ready-to-wear collection, nor even for the authenticity of displays (among the objects on view are the sweat-stained cone-bra corset worn by Madonna, and Nana, Gaultier’s boyhood teddy bear fitted with the original bra), but for the extent to which his work has influenced contemporary art.

Photographs and videos inspired by and dedicated to the designer inform and overwhelm this exhibition, thus making it clear that the real force behind his genius is culture itself, and moreover that his relationship with culture is truly symbiotic. “From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” brings together the quotidian and artistic sources behind the fashion designer’s protean production—as evident from his trench coats and Op art jumpsuit—while illustrating how this output was eventually absorbed into the works of artists and filmmakers as diverse as Pedro Almodóvar, Peter Greenaway, David LaChapelle, and Cindy Sherman.

Far from being a collection of clothes on molds, the exhibition is in fact a multimedia installation. Visitors are greeted by the likeness of the maestro himself: an animated mannequin, dressed in his trademark striped sailor jersey. He is posed in a lineup of other mannequins (the Montreal venue boasts some Quebecois celebrities, which will be replaced by more local personalities as the show travels to Dallas, San Francisco, Madrid, and Rotterdam). Their subtle facial movements and sporadic utterances enliven the extraordinarily sophisticated couture they sport.

A reality check comes in the form of accompanying wall texts that specify the number of hours (in the hundreds) put into each garment and also bring to mind Thomas Edison’s oft-quoted ratio between inspiration and perspiration. One walks away from this show in complete agreement with Warhol’s 1984 proclamation: “Art lies in the way the whole outfit is put together. Take Jean Paul Gaultier. What he does is really art.”

Jean Paul Gaultier
"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk"
The Montreal Museum of Fine Art
1379 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal
June 17–October 2, 2011

Review by Julia Friedman in