On Tuesday night on the ninth floor of Barneys New York, the German performance artist John Bock was on his hands and knees atop a table with a pile of Salvation Army-ready used clothes splayed before him and a crowd of curious onlookers beyond that. Bock’s face was painted white with black makeup around his eyes. Two assistants were sewing away at machines to his right and left. The department store was hosting a cocktail party to celebrate its collaboration with the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art that has seen its first-floor windows transformed into five installations, and had invited Bock to perform for the occasion.
Dakis Joannou, Greek-born megacollector and DESTE founder, stood off to the side of the crowd explaining the collaboration he had undertaken with Barneys and its creative director Dennis Freedman. It was especially difficult for Joannou, who was clear that he did not believe fashion was art nor art fashion.
“For me this was the challenge, to find the formula [so] that the two things would go together without trying to be clever about finding connections,” he said. “You have the fashion and you have the art world: Separate.”
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The windows below, with pieces from artists including Helmut Lang, Juergen Teller and Athina Rachel Tsangari (all of whom were in attendance) did their best to stay true to the point. Any product in the pieces, which ranged from Teller’s wheat-paste portrait of Yves Saint Laurent to a kaleidoscopic display of Tsangari’s short film “Capsule,” seemed incidental. The crowd upstairs, which included Clémence Poésy (a player in Tsangari’s film), Maurizio Cattelan, Yvonne Force Villareal and Dustin Yellin as well as a few curators and collectors, presented a Venn diagram of the two worlds Joannou spoke of.
Bock’s piece explored the territory further. He would select two or three items from the pile such as a button-up shirt and tweed pants, think for a moment, then chop them up with a pair of scissors, and instruct his assistants on how to sew the articles together. When they were ready, Bock handed out his thrift store mutants to partygoers, and as he worked the crowd began sporting his wares with an extra pant leg here and shirt sleeve there. Though his end products were certainly not traditional fashion objects, they still inspired a certain degree of desire in partygoers that is all too familiar at a place like Barneys.
At one point, an assistant presented Bock with a tangle of T-shirts stitched together. He pulled it over his head and very carefully snipped out two eye holes.
“That would look great on me,” one partygoer exclaimed.