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HYPEBEASTS AND THE ART WORLD
Art and fashion have much more in common than initially meets the eye. For both, there is an emphasis on the name. Fashion pieces that have a well-established brand attached to them and art pieces by well known artists are both seen as investment opportunities, with the buyer paying for something more than just the value of materials that went into the creation of the piece.
There is also a cult-like culture of secrecy, exclusivity, and elitism which runs deep through both the art and fashion worlds. Trying to get your hands on a piece from an artist represented by a blue chip gallery is not unlike trying to get your hands on an Hermès Birkin, the first ten or so times you try you’ll likely hear the favorite phrase; “Nothing is available.”
But some artists have worked to make their art more accessible (and marketable) by collaborating with fashion brands, from fast fashion to haute couture.
The Mona Lisa Wears Louis Vuitton?
Jeff Koons is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures in the art world today. Much could be said about the contemporary artist, but his one undeniable strength is his ability to effectively commodify his art. There are few pieces throughout the canon of contemporary art history more recognizable than Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog. Through his collaboration with Louis Vuitton (a brand which is, perhaps, the Jeff Koons of the fashion world), the artist emblazons purses and wallets with works from Di Vinci, Rubens, Fragonard, and other canonical “Old Masters.” As though Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons don’t have enough clout on their own, the artist borrows the authority of his predecessors as well. Not to mention, the items themselves are wallets and purses, items which are designed to hold money.
Ain’t No Laws When You’re Wearing KAWS
If Balenciaga Triple S sneakers (you know, the ones that look like they weigh 40 pounds) were a person, they would be Brian Donnelly, also known as KAWS. He is another very polarizing figure in the art world, but his designs are made slightly more accessible (i.e. affordable) through a collab with Japanese fast fashion brand, Uniqlo. Many blue chip galleries and major museums talk a lot about making art accessible to everyone. But once the art is made accessible through something as commercialized as a collaboration with a fast fashion brand, elitist art world attitudes can begin to surface. KAWS’ “fine art” pieces are often looked down upon by art world elitists, especially his pieces which take the form of collectibles or other commodity objects Though KAWS’ designs aren’t necessarily challenging a bourgeois model of value and aesthetics, a $15 t-shirt from an artist whose works frequently fetch 10,000 times as much certainly breaks down some of the restrictions of contemporary art.
Church and State
Virgil Abloh represents a different kind of art world hypebeast, known primarily for his sartorial success, he has managed to translate his work into a museum and gallery context. He stands out from other examples in that he has never really treated art and fashion as two distinct categories. Unlike Koons or KAWS, he is not trying to morph an original artwork onto a fashion item, but rather the avant-garde aesthetics of the fashion items themselves create a work of art. As the current artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear and founder of Off-White™, Abloh reigns supreme (no pun intended) as king of the streetwear scene. Art and fashion had never intersected in a more commercialized way than with Abloh’s first ever solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. An exhibit filled with clothing racks, shoe displays, and a gift-shop-exit selling $500 t-shirts don’t necessarily make Abloh’s creative work any more accessible to mass audiences. Nonetheless, Abloh’s intersection of art, design, music, and fashion brings creative elements together in a way few before him have been able to accomplish.
Flex culture and the neo-pop movement walk a contradictory line between accessibility and exclusivity. There is a contradiction between the colorful, printed, mass-produced look of these objects that are not shy to market themselves and the actual difficulties of buying an item of clothing worth several months rent. For a few hundred, or even a few thousand dollars you can own a piece by an artist whose work sells at auctions for millions.
This is made even more enticing by the idea that the art you are purchasing will not just be hung in your home for visitors to admire, but is a wearable item, which can be seen by anyone and everyone you cross paths with. We wear our fashion pieces close to our skin, and garments designed by artists undoubtedly offer us a more intimate way of connecting with art.