Do you confirm the narrative you interpret with the artist?
I often become friends with the artists I collect, so if we are friends, I will absolutely ask them questions and confirm any uncertainties I have about any unknown symbolism or meaning in the painting.
How did collecting begin for you?
Collecting began with sports memorabilia for me at a very young age. I actually set up a store of sorts called "Jon's Cards and Cases", in a large closet in my childhood home. I would display and sometimes even sell sports cards that I had acquired to my friends that came to the house. Then after watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, I became interested in street art. I loved the fact these artists were risking legal issues to make public art -- while not even getting paid for it! I collected street art for a while as it is a much smaller world and easier to navigate than the contemporary fine art market.
Initially I felt very overwhelmed by the contemporary art world. As mentioned, I don't have a history in the art world so I was very green. I did not understand how the mechanics of the art world worked at all. It can be a very intimidating place for a young person that doesn't have a lot of money. As I started working with galleries for their real estate needs, I befriended many dealers and started gaining a sense of how the art world operated.
Ever since I started getting serious about collecting contemporary art, I've always stuck with the same formula. The first question is, "do you love the work?". If the answer is no, I immediately move on. There is so much out there I'd like to buy, but a much smaller number of works my gut and heart make me feel compelled to buy. The second part is "can I afford this?!".
Who are some of your favorite artists?
All time favorite artists include Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Matisse, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Tom Wesselman, Peter Saul, Roger Brown, Nicole Eisenmann, and Kerry James Marshall.
Some of my favorite emerging artists include Sasha Gordon, Jordan Kasey, Didier William, Lenz Geerk, Cynthia Talmadge, Emily Ludwig Shaffer, Anna Weyant, Issy Wood, Arghavan Khosravi, Bendy Eyckermans. Oh man, I could go on for a while.
Who or what you are collecting right now?
I'm always collecting figurative painting, and can't imagine changing that. It's just what speaks to me.
In terms of who I'm collecting now, some of the recent additions to my collection include Amoako Boafo, Anthony Cudahy, Issy Wood, Alannah Farrell, and Maria Fragoso.
How does your work in real estate involve art?
Working with galleries is currently about eighty percent of my real estate practice. The other twenty percent is a mixed bag of creative firms ranging from lighting showrooms to architecture firms.
Over the last few years, there has been a significant change in the gallery landscape in New York, with several prominent galleries leaving Chelsea and opening in Tribeca. I'm proud to have represented most of them in their moves.
When I left the large corporate firm I used to work at, I knew had to find a niche to be successful working on my own. New York is a hyper competitive city with real estate being one of the most competitive industries. Without a focus, it can be very difficult to survive and the turnover rate for commercial real estate brokers is incredibly high.
What are you excited about in the art world?
What excites the most in the art world is discovering new artists, and seeing artists I support do great things. There is a genuine rush of seeing a work by someone new for the first time and saying "wow that's an incredible painting". When I get that feeling, I know my bank account is in imminent danger.
It's also just as exciting when an artist I've supported since the beginning of their career gets a major review, creates an amazing new body of work, or inclusion in a museum show. All can be very rewarding, especially when I was buying the work before there was any type of market or critical acknowledgement.
I'm also curating a show opening October 24th in Tribeca which I'm extremely excited about. It's my first attempt at doing any type of curatorial work so I'm stoked about it.
How do you challenge the perception of the traditional art buyer?
For the traditional art buyer, I push boundaries on taste, looking into new styles, mediums, artists. I push against their biases, searching for new possibilities.
For the novice buyer, I push against the perception of fine art being unattainable or extremely expensive. People often think art is out of their reach, but you really just need to know where to look. I can often provide that vision for people.
I think another way I challenge all art buyers is by creating immersive experiences at events and galleries. By being able to step into or walk through or experience art through more than just sight, the art is able to evoke emotion. By doing this, it creates a feeling and a connection to a piece or artist or style stronger than if the person just saw it hanging on a wall.
You're fresh from Electric Jungle, an event which saw the merging of art and music and even transportation, tell us about that...
The Electric Jungle was an incredible experience. It was the 3rd iteration of The Art Plug Power House, an event series I created to experience art outside of the traditional gallery setting. It’s something I can cut and paste and mold into different settings and environments.
The Electric Jungle was an opportunity presented by my partners at Lyft, who I’ve been doing cool campaigns with for a few years now. They approached me about 6 weeks ago wanting to create a cool experience for Miami Music Week in collaboration with the Brightline, an express rail system in South Florida. I was granted creative control over the project and wanted to create a unique, lively experience for people to travel down from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale to Ultra and other MMW events in an immersive, creative environment.
We covered the train in Jungle decor, featuring details from our artists Lefty Out There and Tiago Magro, and installed a DJ booth with live performances during the rides by DJ Nano, one of Miami’s hottest resident DJs, and the dynamic duo, Black Caviar.
We look forward to creating an even better experience next year!
Coming up next is Rolling Loud, where we’ll be curating activation space for one of their major sponsors. I can’t share too many details, but I’m really looking forward to it. This is the hottest festival in the world at the moment and we’re going to create something special for it.
For more updates on our events, check out theartplugpowerhouse.com and @theartplugpowerhouse on Instagram.
Is it a lifestyle you're wanting to create? How are you going about that?
Yes, I consider myself the curator of my own lifestyle. One of the major reasons I sought out entrepreneurial endeavors was to, frankly, do whatever I want to do. I set out to create a career around something I liked and a lifestyle I wanted to live. This lifestyle entails creative freedom, connecting with smart and creative people, traveling around the world, and having fun in the process.
The way I go about doing that is a mix of planning and just doing. While I obviously plan things out, connect dots, and create some sort of roadmap, a lot of the process is just living that lifestyle I want to live and figuring out how to make it all cohesive as I go. I wake up and just do what feels right. As I work with artists and brands, creating exciting projects, I see the lifestyle manifesting in front of my eyes.
Which artists, old and contemporary have had the biggest impact on you?
That’s a hard one. There are so many great artists and people in the business that I’ve learned from and have had some impact on me.
Some notable ones would be Rothko, Warhol, Picasso, and Dali. Rothko’s exhibition at Tate Modern in London showed me how art can invoke emotion. One of my favorite quotes from Warhol was “good business is the best art.” Picasso was a man of many talents, which pushed me to learn different facets of the business. Dali was a madman and showed me that I really could be myself in this game.
Someone who I look up to in the business is Larry Gagosian. He’s paved the way for many dealers to create their own brand and a global network.
Tell us about your artist crew and what draws you to each one?
I have a pretty large roster of artists. There’s a huge range of styles, mediums, personalities, and backgrounds amongst the roster. I work with painters, photographers, designers, illustrators, sculptors. We are a fresh crew of creatives rapidly growing. I work closely with the list below but work in some capacity with 200+.
Some notable ones are:
Jonathan Ryan Harvey
John Paul Fauves
Lefty Out There
Robin Velghe aka RhymezlikeDimez
This Is Addictive
Who's the latest artist to join the art plug roster?
We’ve had a handful of very talented artists join our roster recently. Two painters, Jonathan Ryan Harvey and Revolue, both have distinct abstract styles that I really like.
Kourosh Keynejad is a world-traveling photographer who documents his travels in very high-quality prints. Marius Sperlich is a German photographer who practices macro photography using live models. It's incredibly innovative, unique work that recently landed on the cover of Playboy Magazine.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I think I’d like to be doing the same things but on a much larger scale.
I want to be working with bigger artists from more diverse backgrounds. I want to be throwing bigger events. I want to be working with bigger partners and sponsors.
I really like the trajectory I’m currently on. A lot of pieces are coming together and falling into place for me.
I just want to continue to grow my business and scale everything to a much higher degree and keep this movement flowing.
B: Should we start with what you just did outside the gallery?
J: I just cleaned up seven pieces of pizza that were thrown onto the sidewalk in front of my gallery, which were an invitation for ants that had already started to crawl all over it. And seeing as though I wasn’t going to be here for another week, it seemed as though it was probably a
good idea to get on my hands and knees and clean up the pizza. It’s not like someone else will come along and take care of it.
B: Do you ever regret opening up a gallery?
J: I have no regrets having the gallery. The gallery has become a practice, like a studio practice. Something I diligently go to on a weekly basis, and something that I think about when I’m not here. I think about works I want to show, artists that I’d like to collect, relationships that I would like to put together within the gallery.
B: Where does the gallery fit into your overall practice? You have your design studio JNL, you have a show of your own work up right now at the Ken Saunders gallery, where does the gallery practice lie in relationship to your other pursuits?
J: Lawrence & Clark is just another project. I don’t think of it as an art work, I don’t think of it as a commercial space, I don’t think of it as a job. In some respect it’s no different than the opportunity that my exhibition at Ken Saunders presented. I had made a couple neon pieces, Ken offered me a show, so I made fifteen more. It was a project.
B: What do you think of your occupation as, considering the scope of your projects?
J: I’ve never labeled myself. No one title seems to cover the range of my interests and activities. I’m primarily a graphic designer, and since I own my own studio, I’m a self-employed business person. I’m also an artist. I guess once a week for four hours I’m also a gallerist.
B: And occasional art dealer, yes? You occasionally have commercial shows here?
J: We have sold a few things in four years, which I could count on one hand, maybe two.
B: You don’t see very many noncommercial/collection-based galleries in Chicago. What was the intention when you first decided to open--was it meant to just act as a space where you could see something you bought twenty years ago next to something you bought last week?
J: That was the initial idea, yes.
B: Has it done what you hoped it would do?
J: It’s become more social than I expected it to be. I’m not putting barriers on what the gallery becomes. I’m putting work up on the walls, and I’m coming here on Saturdays from 1pm-5pm. What happens because of that is a bit outside of my purview. I do leave the lights on 24/7, and you can see about 85% of the gallery from the street. So I do feel as though when I’m not here the gallery is still doing its job. I know--I know because people have told me--that they have driven by or stopped on the street to look. And that’s as satisfying to me as people coming by on Saturdays.
B: I’m interested in the relationship between what you display here and what you display in your home and your studio. I know your studio has wall-to-wall art, is your home similar?
J: Yeah, the home is choc-a-block, things stacked on top of each other. Things are leaning against the walls.
B: How do you decide what goes home, goes to the studio, or comes here and ends up hanging in the bathroom?
J: There’s no rhyme or reason.
B: And no record?
J: No. I don’t have an inventory.
B: Does everything you own have a context for you?
J: It has a location in my mind. I always know if it’s at the studio, at the gallery, or at home. If it’s at home it’s either upstairs or it’s in the basement; if it’s upstairs, it’s either on the wall or it’s in a closet; if it’s in a closet, it’s in one of four closets. At the studio, it’s either upstairs, downstairs, or in the basement. So I have a vague mental inventory.
B: How often do you go to the basement to get one thing, and come back upstairs with another?
J: Frequently. I get distracted in my storage spaces. Which is what they’re good for.
B: You seem to cast a wide net, in terms of what piques your interest as a collector. Since you buy in the moment, are the works you own tied for you to specific times and places in your life?
J: Oh, very much so. Especially the early work. The stuff I bought in the ‘80s, early ‘90s. Things I bought from artist-run spaces like Randolph Street Gallery. Those have a special place in my personal history.
B: Has your relationship changed over the years to those works?
J: I think of them in the same way, but I also think of them in such a way that I know I couldn't afford some of them now. I have a Tom Freidman photograph--early, actually, it might be his first, he’s not known for his photography--called Spitbubble. For a while he was a Gagosian artist. So I’m very charmed that I can own a piece by an artist whose career has evolved beyond the scope of what I could reasonably acquire. But then I have other things that I bought at the same time, from similar galleries by artists whose reputations haven’t ascended quite so commercially, and some of those things mean as much to me as pieces like Spitbubble.
B: What’s the impact of living and working in spaces where so much of your collection is around you all the time?
J: Having the work around all the time constantly feeds my curiosity. It absolutely gives me a charge.
B: You do a good deal of buying, how often do you sell works from your collection?
J: Not often. I regret everything I sell, equally. I’ve only sold four or five things total, since about 1987.
B: Is that when you started collecting?
J: Yes, not counting things I acquired when I was a kid, still living at home. Things like a Jacob Fishman neon flamingo. Paintings by Bob Fischer, who thought of himself as the Andy Warhol of Chicago.
B: Weren’t you briefly his studio assistant?
J: Yes, I worked for him when I was in high school. Gessoing his canvases, doing his laundry, typing his letters, running errands.
B: Is that part of what lead you towards the art world?
J: Well, I went to college in Boston. While I was there I spent a good deal of time at the Institute for Contemporary Art, the ICA, looking at shows, going to lectures, attending performances. It was very formative. It was where I first saw work by Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Brian Eno, Jenny Holzer, and that kind of art making is still very important to me. And that was the first time I recognized it.
B: Were you studying art?
J: No, I was studying English Literature. I moved back to Chicago with no professional ambitions, and luckily after a year of floundering around working in a vintage store and a flower store, and doing little odd jobs, I was offered an entry-level position in a design studio run by Michael Glass. I didn’t have a portfolio, I didn’t have any experience, he just sensed a certain aptitude. We met at an art dealer’s loft at a post-opening cocktail party for a show at the
Randolph Street Gallery. I was maybe twenty-two years old. By then I was finding my way towards meeting people in the art world.
B: At that point, graphic design was still an analog, entirely hand-wrought process. Did you have an existing skill set? How did you manage to step into a job like that?
J: On the first day, I was tasked with designing a logo for the renovation of the Rookery. The thing that would go in the window to cover the glass during construction. The drawings were horrible.
B: Did they use them?
J: No. They were ignored. They didn’t know what to do with me.
B: Did you have a sense that this was going to be your career?
J: No, I wouldn’t have guessed at that time that thirty years later I’d still be doing this.
B: Your design work traffics in cultural production, primarily--museums, galleries, restaurants, books and catalogs. You’ve recently rebranded Chicago’s Millennium Park, as well. A job I heard you offered to do, not one you were asked to do.
J: That’s correct, to a point. I was invited to give a lecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival, on communication and graphic design. In it, I made a snarky comment about how bad the initial logo was for the park. It got quite a laugh. There was someone in the audience who remembered the comment, and later enlisted my services for the foundation associated with Millenium Park. The foundation had never had a logo, and had come to realize they needed one to operate more proficiently. Along the way, I suggested that if we were to do the foundation logo properly, it would necessitate redoing the park’s logo. I showed them what it could look like, and they were supportive. It took about eighteen months, and it happened in this kind of backdoor way, but the park has been rebranded.
B: You’ve not just had a hand in projects of that scale though--I doubt I could make it through a whole day in the city without seeing your work on the side of a bus the front of a restaurant, the shelves of a convenience store. Has twenty-five years worth of cultural production of your own making changed your relationship to the city?
J: I’m fifty-four years old. I’ve lived in Chicago fifty years of my life. So there’s that. But I’m still always tickled when I see my work out on the street. It does make me feel a certain connection.
B: As an artist who is accustomed to making credited works, does the anonymity of your high visibility design work ever bother you?
J: When I think about that, I think about going to the supermarket. Every one of the thousands of products on the shelf has a design studio behind it. In context, being the originator of one particular brand or product feels very insignificant. That keeps me humble.
B: How does that fit in to being an art collector? Who the originator was of the thousand or so individual works in your collection is significant.
J: That’s astute.
B: Thanks. Do you have any feelings about being at the intersection of those two things?
J: No. None.
B: What about the visual identity of Chicago apart from your involvement? Do you suppose you would make or collect the same work if you had decided to live in New York, or stayed in Boston?
J: Chicago in the thirty years that I’ve been collecting, has had two significant schools. The Imagists, who predate me. And then the ‘80s conceptualists who were influenced by the Pictures Generation in New York. This would be like Tony Tasset, Judy Ledgerwood, Jeanne Dunning, and it was the latter group that I befriended and started collecting. So my collecting was definitely influenced by that Chicago crew of young artists.
B: You’ve done most of your collecting in the city?
J: Virtually all of it. Mostly from studios, galleries, artist run spaces. Occasionally from art fairs. I’m never looking for anything specific. I’m just looking at what is bubbling up around me in the spaces I visit, and then the artists that are in my milieu, the art that I like, that makes the hairs on my arms stand up, and I can afford it, I buy it. It’s different than the person who is trying to “build” a collection, and is consciously trying to put a group of works together that reference a larger dialogue or have market pedigree.
B: What works or artists are you most pleased to have found out?
J: I had Sterling Ruby’s first large fiberglass sculpture, about six feet tall. I no longer have it, unfortunately. They brought it over to my studio in the back of a pickup truck. I seem to remember these two guys sitting in the back of the truck, holding onto it rather cavalierly. I’m also very fond of Puppies Puppies. I have about seven works by Puppies. I wish I had more. I regret all the things I don’t buy.
‘Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment,’ the late Alexander McQueen once said, referring to the role the creative discipline plays in the freedom of expression. But today, fashion itself remains mostly caged within the confines of a culturally-constructed commercial definition, seemingly unable to deliver itself from its (mostly) unbefitting association with superficiality. A tie that has arguably threatened its reputation, and somewhat questioned its intentions.
McQueen was right. Fashion should be a form of escapism, just as it should be acknowledged as a form of true artistic expression.
Such is the dream of Manan Ter-Grigoryan, the Director of New York’s Postmasters Gallery and founder of Waves and Archives, a critical and experimental platform devoted to the exploration and promotion of fashion as something more than what it is currently seen to be. On a mission to endorse fashion as one of art’s mediums, in academic, institutional, and art world settings, the platform is breathing new life into the pursuit of fashion’s place in art history.
Kathryn Carter: You were born in Armenia and grew up in Moscow, Paris, Cyprus, Italy and New York. Do you think that your multicultural upbringing has influenced the way that you engage with art, and with dress?
Manan Ter-Grigoryan: I think growing up in a constant state of embracing and adapting to new cultures—at times having to shed or re-dress the previous ones—meant growing up with a certain kind of wealth. The flip side of that wealth was the loss of control every time my cultural references were re-contextualized. I think this acknowledgment has influenced my reverence for the complexity of dress as one such referent system, and made art into a safe haven, where I went to calmly wrap my head around each new world. I think I looked to dress, and visual culture in general, to recognize patterns before I could gain fluency in languages.
KC: And what is your earliest memory of going to an art museum?
M T-G: My earliest significant memory of going to a museum might have happened entirely in my hopes. I remember standing in front of Malevich’s Black Square in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, and I remember sitting with tight braids, waiting for my dad to come home and take me to see it. To this day, I am not certain how the reality unfolded; especially given that Black Square is in the Tretyakov Gallery [laughs].
Kazimir Malevich's Black Square, 1915
KC: You completed your Bachelor of Arts at The American University of Paris, and your Master of Arts at Columbia University in the City of New York. Did the debate of whether or not fashion should be considered an artform ever arise during your academic studies?
M T-G: Over a decade ago, when I was in grad school, the debate on whether or not fashion should be considered an art form was very much in the air, so was the hope that we would slowly shift towards a positive answer. However, we continue showing signs of overarching ignorance. These signs manifest in the poor curatorial choices in museum shows, in the lack of vocabulary for the subject’s criticism, and in the number of fashion artists [still] struggling to find their voice, and their platform, outside of fashion’s immediate industry.
For as long as I can remember, I felt that fashion was not only one of art’s mediums, but that it was its most challenging in terms of curation, complex in terms of analysis, and selfless in terms of its relationship to authorship mediums. As such, I was often disheartened by the attitudes of some of the greatest figures of art criticism, with whom I had the admitted fortune of studying [at university]. Luckily, I had a mentor, who is now also a dear friend, who has shielded me from the demotivating aspects of academia. Her presence, brilliance, and open mind have helped me stay kind to my own ideas, even when they were at odds with the ideas of people whom I very much respected.
A year before Alexander McQueen’s passing, I was told I could not write my thesis on his work, unless I compared it to an “actual” art form. The art form we settled on was film. It was an ironic loophole that the said film’s most memorable signifiers were Paul Poiret’s costumes.
KC: To that point, you wrote your thesis on Alexander McQueen before his blockbuster show at the MET. What was it about McQueen’s work in particular that interested you so much?
M T-G: I have always been intrigued by fashion shows as these balancing acts between curatorial work and performance art. When I saw McQueen’s hologram of twirling Kate Moss, I was moved to tears. Having written my thesis on this very moment, I certainly have the vocabulary to speak of its importance in the larger context of art history, but if I am being honest as to my initial motivation, I was just enthralled by the immense beauty.
KC: What role do fashion and art play in your life, on a more personal level?
M T-G: Art is a big part of my life. I have worked in the art world for the last ten years, I’ve spent my whole life studying visual culture, and I’ve turned to art whenever I felt misplaced. To me art is literature, film, science, and really any form of cultural production. I do not have this vision of a painting that appears in front of me when I think about art. From that perspective, art is really everywhere in my life, and I only feel far from it when I feel far from myself.
KC: You’re the current Director of Postmasters Gallery, an art space that regularly plays host to events that mix art, theory, and social activism. Could you tell us more about the philosophy of the gallery, and what it offers the contemporary art scene in New York?
M T-G: I always thought about Postmasters as THE gallery. If you were to describe what a gallery should do, where its interests should lie in an unadulterated world, that is what Postmasters is. Their relationships with their artists, their choices within the market, their attitudes towards collectors and critics are just so genuine and honorable.
Postmasters stays perpetually young. Each year, the founders nurture and fight for the artists they believe in, and each year they act as if they did not compound the benefit of having been here for the last 34 years. This attitude allows them to go in full force, try new things, and not fall into repetitive patterns of learned paths—they don’t grow old, and yet they amass all this wisdom. When I heard that they were hiring a new director, I was very happy to throw my name in the hat, and get a chance to learn from them.
KC: Do you think that your work with Postmasters has influenced or changed the way you think about art?
M T-G: I don’t think that my work here has influenced the way I think about art, but it HAS influenced the way I think about the art world. Every day I see Magda and Tamas—the founders of Postmasters—get excited about an artist without stopping for a second to question their selling potential. Seeing that this kind of a relentless dedication to its mission can sustain the gallery financially, attract true collectors, and retain a great roster of artists is a huge motivation. Also, I think that this attitude brings out the best in everyone who works with the gallery, so I get to see the really beautiful side of the art world, which is often hidden under layers of speculation, vanity, ignorance, insecurity, and snobbery.
KC: Who have you collaborated with on the Waves and Archives journey so far?
M T-G: It is important to mention that Waves and Archives is quickly becoming a product of not just my labor, but also the efforts and faith of our team. Julian Jimarez Howard joined forces with us in 2016. He is a bright gallerist, writer, and a contemporary art curator, with an amazing grasp of a perspective that is not purely West-centric, a rare understanding of textiles, and a visionary outlook on fashion’s prowess as an art form. Marianna Kosheleva, who joined the team around the same time, is a literal rocket scientist by training, and has years of experience working in marketing. She is the reason we are more than just an idea today, and I feel extremely fortunate to have someone as brilliant be an integral part of the platform.
KC: You launched Waves and Archives in late 2017 in an endeavor to endorse fashion as one of art's mediums in academic, institutional, and art world settings. At the time, and still today, do you feel there is a gap in the market for publications and platforms that engage with, and explore, fashion as an artistic discipline, rather than one that is purely aesthetic and commercial?
M T-G: Although I launched Waves and Archives in late 2017, the idea for a fashion gallery came to me in 2007. Because I’d lived with this calling for 12 years, I’ve been sensitive to all the ways in which a platform was needed. To give credit where it’s due, there are several serious fashion publications out there, like Anja Aronowsky Cronberg’ Vestoj, and Valerie Steele’s Fashion Theory, [as well as] quite a few great authors who write about fashion, like Agnès Rocamora or Alison Bancroft, and amazing curators like Judith Clark. But we do continue to see a divide between fashion’s representation and that of art’s more traditional mediums.
Fashion enters museums without a gallery platform to nurture and protect its artist, it is written about in art theory journals with a vocabulary that does not compare to the one reserved for traditional art mediums—i.e. a well respected art publication actually used the following phrase to review The Met Heavenly Bodies exhibition “fabulous […] will make you feel all godly"—and it is not taken seriously by academia. As a result, we are missing out on the potential work of many talented artists who chose fashion as their medium, by pigeonholing them into [roles that involve] creating whatever sells.
KC: The right of fashion to be acknowledged as one of art’s mediums is item #1 of the Waves and Archivesmanifesto. What do you think stops people from considering fashion as art?
M T-G: I think education is very important. On both ends, fashion designers are not trained to think of themselves, and to fend for themselves, in the same terms as artists are in art schools. And on the other side of that spectrum you have art programs that do not empower you to think about fashion on the same terms as you would about more traditionally accepted art mediums.
Many people have challenged me on this topic, with questions about the irreconcilability of fashion as art, [mostly] because of its relationship to utility, context, or performativity, or due to the modes of its production. But I feel that—post Dada, Bauhaus, and Pop Art—20th century art has already dealt with these issues gracefully enough to deserve counting fashion among its mediums. I feel a bit silly even having to engage with this nonsense, since I end up having to quote actual hundred-year-old movements in art history in order to make a point.
KC: Do you feel that the current conversation surrounding, and engagement with, fashion—the fast pace, the fanfare, the focus on the aesthetic creation and how it can be worn (and purchased) as opposed to the concept—is perhaps a part of the problem when it comes to our failure to consider fashion as an art?
M T-G: I think we should draw a line between fashion that is apparel, and fashion that is art, the same way we can intuitively draw a line between any three-dimensional object and a sculpture, any image and a two-dimensional artwork, any website and net art, etc. The medium itself neither makes nor limits the medium’s capacity to be an artwork.
KC: Fashion is considered a creative industry, and yet the debate still rages on whether it should be considered an artistic discipline. What do you feel a designer has to do to transcend the realm of the creative into the realm of the artistic?
M T-G: I think that answering this question would be like defining all artistic production. In my subjective view, an artwork redefines what art is. I think Iris Van Herpen is an artist, I think Rei Kawakubo is an artist, but I do not think we should come up with certain criteria of what art is, and let the designers enter the art world only when they check those boxes. We should create all the conditions of possibility for fashion to not be unjustly cast aside, and let the fashion artists decide and define what art is, like generations of artist have done time and time again.
KC: In your Waves and Archives manifesto, you use the term ‘fashion artists’ as opposed to fashion designers. Do you feel that all fashion designers are artists? Or do you think a distinction should be made between commercial fashion (to be displayed exclusively in shop windows) and more artistic fashion (to be displayed in galleries)?
M T-G: I am thankful to you for this question, because I know it is a question on many people’s minds, and it needs clarification.
There is fashion production that is not art, just like there are painted things that are not art. These things are not within the sphere of Waves and Archives interests. However, I do think that in a world that is well past Duchamp’s ready-mades, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s silver-wrapped candy, or even Yves Klein’s burnt receipts for the sale of immaterial pictorial spaces, reducing a medium to its mode of promotion, proliferation or production is a very traceably archaic.
A fashion artist is an artist if they have that intent, and they should be haled good or cast aside as bad on the same terms reserved for any other artist. In terms of the modes of display, I can see how shop windows can be an extension of the artistic practice, the same way that Alexander McQueen’s, or Hussein Chalayan’s, or Victor & Rolf’s catwalks are an extension of their artworks. They don’t have to be, but they also don’t have to NOT BE, you see. It’s all about granting fashion artists the same freedoms extended to artists working in other mediums.
KC: The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937. In 1946, the institute merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a curatorial department. Do you feel that displaying fashion in galleries in this way, as a quasi-separate extension, helps or hinders the view of fashion as an art form equal to, say, painting or sculpture?
M T-G: I think fashion should be in museums, but I think fashion should not enter museums without the gallery and academic platforms first supporting it.
As a result of fashion entering museums without the same supporting platforms that other art mediums enjoy, we end up with fashion exhibitions in museums for the sake of ticket sales that are subpar both in curation and in motivation. We end up with museums using the immense beauty and relatability of fashion as entertainment bait, instead of trying to present its complexity and cultural significance.
Here are a few examples of some very simple curatorial decisions that we easily accept with fashion, and yet would be appalled to see in the context of hitherto accepted art mediums. We see rooms curated by the colors of dresses from different eras and different designers, with differing conceptual underpinnings. Can you fathom seeing all the yellow paintings independent of whether they were by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, or Ellsworth Kelly being shown in one room, because they all happen to have some yellow in them? Or how about the museum texts in fashion exhibitions that speak about the number of stitches or hours of labor, reducing a rather conceptual piece to its craft only? Can you ever imagine a conceptual artwork’s description focusing on the number of days it took to create, unless that labor was somehow a part of the concept to begin with? I could go on forever, but this is why the Waves and Archives manifesto appears as a statement of rights, rather than assertions.
KC: Such a solid point, in treating fashion differently to the way we treat other mediums, we’re really only worsening the problem. In an ideal world, how would you envisage the display of fashion within the museum space?
M T-G: I think an ideal world would allow for fashion to organically start claiming and finding its own just curation, audiences, vocabulary, and critics. The correct path is not to artificially recognize and methodically eliminate all the ways in which fashion is being presented incorrectly, but rather to recognize the need for, and to promote and encourage, [more critical] thought on fashion, and platforms for fashion that would serve as a supporting system on that path.
Fashion schools should provide an alternate path for the designers who are artists, they should provide art criticism courses that are to the same standard as what is offered at art schools, and art schools should allow students and faculty to choose fashion as their subject of investigation. Galleries should represent and show the works of fashion artists on the same terms as they do any other artist’s work, and everyone should work together to build up the audiences and eventually a market for this alternate form of creative practice. When those things happen, we will find that good curation will follow.
KC: When we view fashion on the runway, it’s a carefully orchestrated and often fleeting event. The experience does not allow much time for contemplating each garment, or the collection as a whole. Do you feel the fanfare that surrounds these kinds of displays is of detriment to our ability to take fashion more seriously?
M T-G: Catwalks can be a powerful part of fashion’s medium. Think about Alexander Cadler’s Circus— considered widely as the predecessor of performance art—where Cadler himself would perform the work. The way we should understand the artwork depends largely on the intent of the artist. I think, for example, Kanye West’s show for Yeezy’s season 5 collection, where he projected the images of models wearing his designs on giant screens, was very much a part of his art, as a commentary on the image driven proliferation of fashion.
KC: Speaking of images, you’re currently working on a library map, a visual representation of the connections between 150 of the most central thinkers to art criticism. Can you paint us a picture of what this map will look like?
M T-G: Three years ago I tried to imagine the Waves and Archives fashion gallery, the world’s first gallery showing fashion as art, and representing fashion artists as such. Then I realized that the space [alone] wasn’t enough, and that knowledge had to be made accessible for audiences, for artists, and for critics to visualize fashion’s organic belonging as a subject in all these intertwining themes of art history. So I wanted a library, and this library’s organization quickly became a black hole of curiosity.
For three years I read up on library studies, met with librarians, questioned organizational structures behind our current library systems, and realized that this process would become a tool only if the connections between various thinkers and their themes and influences were illuminated in a dynamic and interactive way. This led me to the universe of network citation analysis, and then network visualizations. It took a really long time, and much courage to realize that there was no real place to automate the scraping of all the connections, and so I set down for months and mapped 12,551 edges between the nodes of 150 or so qualitatively chosen signposts of art criticism. It is sort of a screenshot of the Western Academia’s use of different disciplines to carve out a space for art criticism. It paints a picture of mostly white males, and that is rather sad, but to know it is to be able to move away from it. Either way, it is of paramount importance to not feel like it is this inaccessible knowledge.
So I am spending a lot of my time now trying to finalize the design and the development of this map so it can be used, and hopefully we can implement some form of AI to teach the map to rewire itself and accept new signposts, as we both adopt and disrupt the existing paradigm. Someday I hope we can have guest curators of this knowledge map, and maybe even some universal user generated conglomeration of it.
As to the question about its look: imagine a lot of dots and lines that connect those dots in a beautiful constellation, an ever-shifting screenshot of fireworks. The user can set up what parameters are important to them, and the map brings specific edges to the foreground.
KC: You’re also putting together a Waves and Archives publication, documenting the number of critical works written on the subject of fashion as one of art's mediums. You describe the publication as a hybrid archival art object. Can you tell us more about the format? And where readers will be able to view/purchase the resource?
M T-G: Waves and Archives is conceived as this trifecta: a gallery, a library with its map, and a publication. The publication, as a site for coalescence of critical thought on fashion, will assume the format of an envelope filled with a stack of articles printed in black and white. These writings will escape being hierarchized, as they will simply be gathered together inside an envelope. The practice also attempts to allude to the format of research findings that scholars accumulate and turn to for research and inspiration.
Limited to a numbered and signed edition of 200, the journal will also become an archival art object, documenting the birth, and later the heartbeat, of the discourse for which it is a platform. The Waves and Archives publication in its original form will be available for purchase in select museum bookstores, art bookstores, and concept stores around the world. However, the writing will be available for free download and printing at home, making it possible for anyone to be able to reproduce an exact copy of our publication with a simple home printer. This idea is very important to us, in order to stay true to our mission and ideals.
KC: What kind of response has Waves and Archives received thus far?
M T-G: Very positive, but also it seems to puzzle people a bit. We seem to stumble back on the familiar questions of: “But is it a wearable?” “But is it art?” “But if it is in museums, isn’t it a sign that it already is art?” “But what about catwalks? Are they not equivalent to gallery openings?” “But if it is mass produced, can it be art?” etc. And then, you have the other spectrum of a world of people holding their breaths, waiting for someone to work away these questions, so that in fact everyone else can finally do so too. And I acknowledge, that in order for Waves and Archives to truly succeed, I will have to not only accept, but also celebrate, what in most cases would be considered competition. I want there to be more fashion galleries, I want there to be more fashion journals and publications that are worthy of quoting in academic papers, I want there to be more place for fashion artists to be fashion artists, instead of being told by someone that their designs are, or are not good enough, for the market.
KC: What do you envisage for the future of Waves and Archives?
M T-G: I imagine Waves and Archives becoming a reality for a quick and bright moment, and then extinguishing into the whole of art history as a movement. It is sort of the Bauhaus of fashion. It will outlive itself only by writing fashion into the existing art history, and by carving out ways for designers to be a part of art criticism’s future. As we start to question the sustainability of fashion production as well, I think this movement might have a lot of unexpected and tangential positive outcomes not only in the art world, but also in the world at large.
Waves and Archives' Fashion Atlas beta version rendered in Microsoft Power BI