Jennifer Minniti brings her expertise in fashion design, curation, and education to Underline Gallery’s annual exhibition series “SHOP,” currently on view in its second installment. As the current chair of Fashion Design at Pratt Institute, former curator of textiles and modern fashion at the de Young Museum, and established designer of several collections, including those under her Minniti*McMurtrie label, she focuses on sustainable, ethnographic, and interdisciplinary approaches to fashion. Below, Minniti answers our questions regarding her experience in the industry, the growing intersection between fashion and art, and the conceptual basis of her ongoing exhibition series at Underline Gallery.
As an accomplished designer, educator, and curator, and the current Chair of Fashion Design at Pratt Institute, you have a diverse background in various facets of the fashion industry. What are your views on the relationship between fashion design and art? How have your experiences inspired you to curate “SHOP”?
Oh man! That is a great—but perhaps loaded—question. There are many of us curators, critics, designers, scholars and historians who continue to examine the relationship between fashion and art. Fashion is such an interesting practice because it speaks volumes on cultural economy, identity, gender, and consumer behavior, not to mention the economic and political climate. One thing I can say for sure, particularly in places like NYC, is that fashion, art, and music thrive and feed off of one another. I might be able to say the same thing about the digital information age, technology and fashion. I believe Steve Jobs (who wore jeans and a black turtleneck shirt as a uniform and fashion statement) understood the fashion cycle. When Apple products started changing the color of products or when they marginally changed the design of a piece of technology (so laptops are lighter…and so are fashion models these days), I thought that was smart. And that is what fashion has been doing all along. It changes every season, perhaps marginally—we continue to button shirts and zip up trousers. In fact, in trying to keep up with information overload, fashion now offers a ridiculous number of seasons a year such as pre-fall and pre-spring. I think I’m onto something here…
Recent years have seen a growing fascination with the art of fashion design from a curatorial standpoint. You recently led a talk with Andrew Bolton, curator of the wildly successful “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” that addressed issues of presenting clothing, apparel, and other unconventional art objects within the museum context. As a seasoned curator of textiles at the de Young Museum, what are the challenges of fashion design exhibition? How have you been influenced by the work of Bolton and other fashion curators?
I am very much influenced by Andrew Bolton and his predecessor Richard Martin with whom I studied under as a graduate student at NYU. Ideally, I’d like to curate fashion exhibitions that force people to identify with fashion. I believe that is what Andrew Bolton does really well. He has made believers out those folks who might think fashion is frivolous, or for those who simply don’t consider the subject at all. He is able to present the history of fashion and current contemporary practice as a cultural phenomenon. He is raising the awareness and the consciousness of fashion with every show he mounts at the Met. Richard Martin, in my opinion, set the stage for that, by raising the bar of fashion curation and thus placing fashion on the same platform as fine art.
In regards to challenges, I can only speak to my own. Lately, I’ve been hyper-aware of my desire to resurrect those art and fashion exhibitions that have become extinct. I’m talking about some of the art and fashion exhibitions that took place in the later 90’s in London, New York, and Florence. I am constantly seeking the intersections and parallels between art, design, fashion, music, and literature. Using fashion as a point of departure, I examine the cross-section of shared ideas, languages, and processes in art, fashion, and design. That is where I have fun—mixing it all up. Stealing words from artist Sheila Pepe, “It’s a Mash-up.” That’s the world we live in today. Exhibitions such as “SHOP” warrant attention as critical visual examinations of the mash-up-landscape.
Within the fashion practice itself one will recognizes this mash-up immediately. Collections are collages of ideas around shape, proportion, line and silhouette. Designers are using various textures, prints, colors, and weights in ways that at one time would seem implausible. It is certainly an interesting time for fashion.
The works included in “SHOP: Anew” are diverse in terms of both their content and media, with some more overtly linked to fashion design than others. How did you choose the artists and designers featured in this year’s show?
This year’s show insisted upon “the-making” and craft. That concept was extracted from last year’s show and examined more intimately in “SHOP: Anew.” Early on, I had a vision of examining and highlighting the ongoing dialogue between the 2D and 3D processes. I soon realized that I could simply showcase it that way without being overly didactic about it; this underlying concept is what opened up possibilities for designer and artist Liz Collins and resulted in an investigation for her wall textile and site specific installation “Explosion in Pink and Red.”
I also take advantage of being able to put internationally recognized artists such as Beverly Semmes up against newcomers—in different but related fields—such as Elisa Van Joolen. Essentially, I looked for diversity in artists and designers within a very specific theme. If you take a snapshot of “SHOP: Anew” you will find that each artist is impassioned by the exploration of technique—such as Robin Mollicone’s labor intensive beadwork with precious stones or Aurore Thibout’s ability to imprint memory in rubber onto a silk dress. Elisa Van Joolen is enamored with cut, while Libby Black is enamored by the luxury goods industry, glue, and paper.
Staged within Underline’s gallery space, “SHOP” seems to encourage engagement with the objects themselves, inviting viewers to become immersed within Liz Collins’ installation “Explosion in Pink and Red” or to meticulously examine the delicate beadwork of Robin Mollicone’s jewelry. What is your overarching goal of the show? What do you want your visitors to experience and what do you want them to walk away with?
I felt the need to push process. I tried to make overt connections between the languages of making, be it crochet, knit, cut, paint, or stringing beads. There is an intensity to hand qualities of every object in the show, even if that is a deliberate hand mark in paint. I want people to walk away with an appreciation of the labor behind the making of art and fashion—and to be able to witness the sheer beauty of it all.
Also, the price designation, written next to each object, was of course intentional. It is about shopping, after all. I tried to break down the barriers between highbrow and lowbrow shopping, be it in a gallery or high-end retail store. The way one has to search or find the price for a work of art—I’m including fashion here—I find to be quite amusing.
Underline opened its doors with the first edition of “SHOP” in September 2011. How has this year’s exhibition differed from last year’s show—in regards to both your curatorial direction and the work presented?
I wanted to go all out—bang!—with the first “SHOP” exhibition because it was the inaugural show for Underline and for the concept. I tried to represent a very wide range of artists and designers who work in the context of fashion. The show had a rather broad sensibility that reached many practices, resulting in a rich shopping experience that reflected a similar experience in fashion consumerism.
This year’s show is very different. (Following the rule of fashion, one must not repeat.) This show was a celebration of a specially selected group of women—designers and artists—who investigate craft, technique, and process.
What are your plans for next year? How have your experiences over the past two years impacted your view of this evolving exhibition series?
Experience generates my ideas—always. So, I do have a few ideas up my sleeve for upcoming “SHOP” exhibitions, but I can’t give those ideas away at the moment—that would be very out of fashion!
"SHOP: Anew" is on view at Underline Gallery through October 17.