RISD Museum’s Artist/Rebel/Dandy Exhibit Coming in April

Thursday, January 03, 2013


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The dandy will get his day in the sun this spring, when the RISD Museum opens its first-of-a-kind exhibit: Artist/Rebel/Dandy. Photo: RISD Museum.

Serious flair is in store for Rhode Island this spring, when The Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design opens Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion the first exhibition of its kind to focus on the persona and history of the distinctively dressed figure of the dandy.


The exhibition features more than 200 objects—including innovative garments, bespoke clothing, works on paper, and paintings—drawn from the Museum's collections and loans from individuals and national and international institutions. Beginning with the elegant dandy George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840), the exhibition traces artist-dandies throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The role of exquisite craftsmanship in custom design, the dandy's role as both fashion icon and caricature, and the contributions of today's style leaders—such as Thom Browne, Rick Owens, Ouigi Theodore, and Waris Ahluwalia—are explored. An illustrated book accompanies the show, which runs from April 28 to August 18, 2013.

A new look at fashionable men

The exhibition breaks ground by emphasizing the personalities of well-known fashionable men, focusing on the enduring bond between identity, creativity, and self-presentation. "The exhibition and its companion book offer a sumptuous view of the power of clothing and fine craftsmanship. It comes at a time of renewed appreciation for the nuances and attention to detail of traditional tailoring but also innovation and boldness in menswear design. The dandy, a historical figure, is central to this development," says RISD Museum Director John W. Smith.

Diverging from recent exhibitions that have explored the general topic of menswear or even the 19th-century notion of the dandy, Artist/Rebel/Dandy proposes a new line of inquiry that examines, deconstructs, and expands on popular definitions of the dandy "from one solely concerned with flamboyance and flash to a figure who is innovative, rebellious and profound in thought," say exhibition curators Kate Irvin, Curator and Head of the RISD Museum's Costume + Textiles Department, and Assistant Curator Laurie Brewer.

The "dandy in his full spectrum"

Unlike chronological approaches to the history of fashion, Artist/Rebel/Dandy mingles personalities and time periods with original materials to present the dandy in his full spectrum. For example, the clothing and caricatures of artist Max Beerbohm are on view adjacent to the garments of Vogue magazine's Hamish Bowles, while an exquisite imported Indian robe worn by the future King George IV is shown in proximity to Iké Udé's contemporary photographs that explore the place of the dandy in a cosmopolitan world. Words and images of Charles Baudelaire feature alongside the clothing and style snippets of the late Richard Merkin, noted painter and RISD professor, and the designs and slogans of impresario Malcolm McLaren. The fabrics and designs of the firms Dashing Tweeds and Luciano Barbera are represented by the designers themselves—the contemporary dandies Guy Hills and Luciano Barbera.

Exhibition book

The fully illustrated book, co-published and distributed by Yale University Press (2013), includes essays by curators Irvin and Brewer, fashion historian Christopher Breward, and Barnard College English professor Monica L. Miller. Menswear designer Thom Browne writes the preface, and 15 additional writers contribute "musings" on the topic of artist-dandies, including Glenn O'Brien, contributor to GQ magazine, past editor of Interview magazine and New York bureau chief of Rolling Stone, who writes on style icon Beau Brummell; musician, author, and photographer Patti Smith writes on Charles Baudelaire; biographer Merlin Holland writes on his grandfather, Oscar Wilde; scholar and RISD Museum educator Horace D. Ballard Jr. writes on W. E. B. Du Bois; and photographer and author Scott Schuman of the Sartorialist blog writes on Luciano Barbera.

Exhibition Themes

Organized thematically, gallery sections include a four-part introduction: "Beau Brummell" illustrates the style of this forbearer of "man at his best"; "Sketches and Definitions" introduces the often contradictory definitions and images of the clothes-wearing man; "Crafting the Dandy" addresses the workmanship and detail that makes up an aggressively individual style of male fashion; and "Relics" brings together garments and accessories that epitomize certain iconic dandies.

While the exhibition stresses the many ways in which the dandy eludes exacting definition, five themes offer a framework for viewers to explore the individual personalities, suggesting kinship across chronological and geographic borders: Historians, Connoisseurs, Revolutionaries, Romantics, and Explorers. Such figures as Thom Browne, founder and head of design for American fashion label Thom Browne; Waris Ahluwalia, jewelry designer, actor, and columnist for Style.com; W. E. B. Du Bois, noted scholar, editor, and African American activist; Stephen Tennant, author and member of the "Bright Young People" social set, and Motofumi "Poggy" Kogi, director of the Japanese label United Arrows & Sons, buyer for United Arrows, and previously of the fashion label Liquor, Woman & Tears, embody these themes respectively. The exhibition acknowledges these classifications as fluid and porous and the individuals as capable of spanning several, perhaps even all, categories. Just as they are all simultaneously artists, rebels, and dandies, the figures represented in Artist/Rebel/Dandy are historians, connoisseurs, revolutionaries, romantics, and explorers ---- each living his productive and creative life in pleasure and enjoyment of his clothing.

"Connecting the actual garments of the creative men who wore them with portrayals of the dandy throughout history offers the viewer fresh insights into the power of fashion and textiles as a male pursuit," say curators Irvin and Brewer. "This line of inquiry not only brings to light collections of the RISD Museum and other institutions, but it also presents clothing as expressions of individual personality and as art," adds Museum Director Smith.

Artist/Rebel/Dandy is supported by the Coby Foundation, Jake Kaplan's Jaguar, the RISD Museum Associates, and the Artist/Rebel/Dandy Leadership Committee.


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