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Julia Peyton-Jones on Art and Fashion

The co-director of London's Serpentine Gallery is something of a grand dame of the art world.

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Julia Peyton-Jones is something of a grand dame of the art world. As co-director of London’s prestigious Serpentine Gallery, she brought in the late Princess Diana as patron in 2000 and launched the annual Summer Party, a gala on the luscious grounds of Hyde Park that has become one of the highlights of London’s social calendar and that took place Tuesday night. WWD caught up with Peyton-Jones, just back from the Venice Biennale and Art Basel, to talk fashion and art, and this year’s Summer Party.

 


WWD: We were speaking about the connection between art and fashion.
Julia Peyton-Jones: Well, I think that the art world is a one of the most fashion-conscious of all industries. The art world is obsessed with all things visual and this applies to what they wear as much as anything else.


WWD: How do you think these art world migrations like the Venice Biennale and Art Basel feature in this juxtaposition of art and fashion?
J.P.J.: Art, fashion, architecture, and design: they all come together. For the art world, these events are very much about work, but work and play blend in a grand promenade of objects and people. Art and fashion are put on display, and the whole affair is invariably as thrilling as it is unpredictable.


WWD: How have you seen that play out this year?
J.P.J.: Just walking around you see this endless parade of up to the minute styles, anything from the high street to couture, all of it flooding the city. The exchange between art and fashion at all levels is palpable. The Fondazione Prada, for example, which has been a major art-world force since the early Nineties, has organized numerous exhibitions and events in Milan and Venice. Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, who head the foundation, this year opened a part of their collection at the beautiful Palazzo Ca’ Corner della Regina on Venice’s Grand Canal. In a similar way, Bernard Arnault, who is both chairman of LVMH and has one of the most important art collections in the world, will soon launch his collection at a major new museum in Paris. His fellow countryman François Pinault, who owns the Gucci Group, is another of the world’s major collectors of contemporary art and has shows at two museums in Venice. And those are just a few examples.


WWD: As you say art and fashion have always gone hand in hand but there was a time when this wasn’t the case or at least less so.
J.P.J.:
The most enduring myth of the relationship is that fashion has piggybacked on the high-cultural kudos of art, and that art is thereby hijacked by this multibillion-dollar cultural world. I don’t think that that’s the case. Rather, this misunderstanding stems in part at least from a few well-known historical instances — most famously perhaps Cecil Beaton’s 1951 Vogue spread of models parading in front of Jackson Pollock’s paintings at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York and from Sixties designers “borrowing” liberally from the Op Art of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely.


WWD: That’s very interesting because it brings us to this idea of parading fashion and catwalking, the intermingling of art with fashion and using it not as backdrop or a foil but more as an extension.
J.P.J.:
Yes, very much so. I mean, the truth is, of course, that the relationship between art and fashion has long been one of mutual influence. The Canadian artist Jana Sterbak may have been the first to create a dress entirely from meat back in 1987, but Lady Gaga’s spectacular entrances — whether she’s in Franc Fernandez’s meat dress or held aloft in Hussein Chalayan’s podlike vessel — I think surely rank among the significant performance spectacles of our time. And really it’s not just the fashion and pop worlds looking on and taking notes. Meanwhile, you have Chalayan himself representing Turkey at Venice in 2005 with his mesmerizing film “The Absent Presence.” He is a perfect example of one of a number of today’s innovators who seamlessly merge art and fashion. And you know Turkey’s commitment to design continues this year with their commission of Konstantin Grcic to turn the ubiquitous free tote bag into an object of desire.


WWD: Grcic also curated a design exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in 2009.
J.P.J.:
That’s right.

 

WWD: What formal relationship do art institutions like the Serpentine Gallery have with fashion?
J.P.J.:
Well, museums and galleries, including the Serpentine through its annual architectural commission, the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, this year designed by Peter Zumthor, have a long history of involvement with some of the most important contemporary fashion houses. For the Serpentine, at least, we rely on their support to pursue some of our most ambitious projects. It’s vital. In the past, our annual fund-raiser, The Summer Party, has been sponsored by Yves Saint Laurent and Jimmy Choo, for example, amongst other distinguished brands. Then in 2007 we joined forces with Puma and the artist John Armleder to launch the Reality Bag, a limited edition fashion accessory that was sold worldwide.
Another example of fashion and art working together was our collaboration with the Scottish knitwear company Pringle on the occasion of the Serpentine’s 40th and Pringle’s 195th anniversaries last year. We were inspired by the days of Cecil Beaton and the result reimagined the classic twinset with a series of limited editions by some of the most important contemporary Scottish artists.


WWD: The Summer Party has arrived. Can you tell us who you are working with for 2011?
J.P.J.:
Yes. This year we’re very pleased to be teamed up with the legendary brand Burberry, who are sponsoring The Summer Party. They take a pioneering approach to everything they do and the plans are coming together brilliantly — the design looks amazing and now we just have to cross our fingers for sunshine!

WWD: What about your own fashion for these annual art world migrations?
J.P.J.:
I’m afraid for me certain practicalities must be considered. I am more conscious of comfort in Venice than at any other time in the arts calendar.


WWD: No meat dress for you then.
J.P.J.:
(laughter) Well, let’s put it this way: my continental counterparts could be seen in heels — for which they have my undying admiration — but in Venice I was in trainers throughout. They’re always the most effective way to cover the terrain at breakneck speed.


WWD: Surely, you will not be wearing trainers at The Summer Party?
J.P.J.:
The Summer Party is always fantastic for spotting beautiful people, beautifully dressed. This is not a trainer moment; heels are de rigueur even for me.