Today, Designmuseum Danmark opened a new exhibition of fashion photography, entitled Northern Women in Chanel. In true Fashion Week style, the exhibition was launched with an opening party for selected invitees, complete with celebrities and goodie bags. Sadly, I am not part of the in crowd; but thanks to images and blogposts shared by the museum on Facebook you and I can get a peek at the festivities.
Judging by these descriptions, the event seems to be have been as much about airkissing as it was about art. Which is fine by me, this is how the fashion industry works. But the whole event, as well as the guest list – including fashion bloggers, note – indicates that this exhibition belongs to Chanel more than it does to Designmuseum Danmark. Obviously it does so literaly, this being a travelling exhibition and a artbook project created by the photographers in collaboration with the fashion house, as confimed by the English press release being signed by two people form Chanel’s nordic press office as well as by the museum’s head of communication.
What I’m getting at is not really the mingling of business interests with cultural institution objectives, although this is one of the controversies that often follow high fashion exhibitions, as it calls into question the curatorial integrity.
What worries me more is that this exhibition could have been staged anywere, say at someplace quintessentially and trendily ‘Nordic’, as the rooting in the museum as cultural heritage institution seems to have been underplayed. And so, despite playing host to the fashionistas and earning some praise in the blogosphere, has the museum really raised its profile in the fashion world as a museum, or mainly as a trendy venue?
Sleeping on yesterday’s posting above, I realise that maybe I’m the one who’s getting it wrong. Maybe my notion of the Designmuseum as cultural heritage institution is caught up in an arcaic idea about the museum as preserver and presenter of a heritage frozen in time, not living breathing culture. Even though I myself have been arguing the opposite in so many other contexts, I fell victim to precisely this sort of thinking when stating that hosting a fashion event fell outside the museum’s objectives. But fashion has it’s own norms and workings as a cultural phenomenon, and should be understood and represented on it’s own terms.
So really, isn’t an event like this (or Bruuns Bazaar’s AW12 show that was also held at the museum last night) akin to an art museum presenting an art performance? In this case the cult and culture of fashion performed and observed by fashion’s insiders; a cultural phenomenon and experience taking place in the museum, how very fitting.