Monday, March 7, 2011

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

San Francisco's Fine Art Museum at the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is one of our two favorite decorative arts museums. (The other is the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in the left wing of the Louvre in Paris.) We have seen some simply marvelous exhibits of jewelry, sculpture, interior design and ceramics at this museum in the past. Isabelle de Borchgrave's Pulp Fashion is the first strictly fashion exhibit we have seen here ... and it does not disappoint!

For more than fifteen years, the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave has been producing a completely original body of work that is quite easy to explain but very difficult to categorize. Her central project has been to recreate exquisite, life-size historical costumes entirely from paper.  Taking inspiration from the rich depictions in early European paintings, iconic costumes in museum collections, photographs, sketches and even literary descriptions, de Borchgrave skillfully works paper to achieve the effect of textiles: crumpling, pleating, braiding, feathering and painting the surface.
de Borchgrave and her artists working on the dress for Eleanor of Toledo

Isabelle de Borchgrave is a painter by training, but textiles and costumes are her muses. Working in collaboration with leading costume historians and young fashion designers, de Borchgrave creates a world of splendor from simplest rag paper. Painting and manipulating the paper, she crafts elaborate dresses inspired by the rich depictions in early European painting or by the iconic costumes in museum collections around the world.  In her work, she explores the minds of the artists who created or depicted the gowns and imagines the psyche of the women who wore them, transporting her audience to another time and place. As de Borchgrave explains: Although my inspiration springs from the period dresses in the great museum collections, this is just a wink at history. My work is a confluence of influences—paper, painting, sculptor, textiles, costume, illusion and trompe l’oeil. 

The exhibition is presented in six sections:

The Artist's Studio is recreated to provide insight into de Borchgrave’s creative process.
The artist's studio introduces the visitor to the exhibit.

The White Room presents a collection of designs that are devoid of color, giving you an unobstructed view into the craftsmanship of the fabric and dresses.
White on white decoration reveals the construction and paper detail of the costumes, which range from an 18th century court dress with wide panniers to a mid-20th century design by Dior.

Papiers a la Mode features iconic looks from key periods in fashion history, including historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth I and Madame de Pompadour, and famous designers such Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel.

The Medici Women is de Borchgrave's most extravagant series, with elaborate velvets, needlework lace, ropes of pearls and intricate coiffures all transformed into paper sculpture. 
The Medici gallery is spectacular. The detail on dresses, lace, hats and coiffures, jewelry and shoes is remarkable.

These shoes, known as chopines, were the rage in Venice (and later throughout Europe) from the 15th through 17th centuries.

The Fortuny Tent, presenting the famed pleated and draped gowns of Mariano Fortuny, the eccentric early 20th-century artist.
The Fortuny Tent (L) and the Inspiration Room (R)

Inspiration is a collection inspired by four paintings selected from the Legion of Honor's European painting collection.

While the historical aspects of the fashions are the core of the show, the details of the paper creations are there for you to see ... up close.  De Borchgrave utilizes a heavy rag paper for the fabric, shoes and the sculpted jewelry,  but she has chosen a lens cleaning paper for the laces and transparent fabrics. 
Fabric detail.
Detail of front fabric panel from Queen Elizabeth I's court gown.
Intricate lace designs stenciled on lens cleaning paper.
Detail of paper jewelry, lace and cuffs.

The local Bay Area CBS station featured the opening of this exhibit on Eye on the Bay (2/28/2011). The show (in four videos) gives you a backstage view of the installation, an interview with the artist, a fun segment on children creating their own paper fashion and the excitement of opening night.

The exhibition Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave which opened on February 5, will continue through June 5, 2011, at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco's Lincoln Park.

In a related demonstration program, paper artist Anandamayi Arnold is creating a wearable paper costume inspired by French fashion from the 1780s. More on this demonstration in my next blog post.

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