A look at "Yeohlee/Serra" at the Phoenix Art Museum.


UNDER THE DESERT SUN: The Yeohlee Teng designs that are now on view in the Phoenix Art Museum’s “Yeohlee|Serra” exhibition were a long time coming.

Curator Dennita Sewell first saw Yeohlee’s pieces, when she was a collections manager at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. “She saw them there and I guess they stayed with her for a very long time.” Teng said. “That was in 1995 and the pieces were from spring of 1992.”

Sewell said, “I was there when they were donated and I just always remembered how striking they were. You can imagine in that environment where there are so many great things, and they made such an impression on me — the graphic nature [of the pieces], the originality. I believe she came in and talked about the zero waste [principle] and how they had been sewed from seven meters.”

The compact exhibition juxtaposes Teng’s ivory and black designs opposite Richard Serra’s oil-stick paintings. The artist is known to heat black paint stick sometimes to a fluid state to create elemental forms. But Teng noted, “Both bodies of work happened independently of each other. They just happened in the same time frame but in different disciplines.”

Another curator, Susan Sidlauskas, the force behind “Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design,” a 1982 exhibition at the MIT Museum, first drew the correlation between Teng’s and Serra’s work in her essay for the show’s catalogue. Teng said, “She mentioned Richard Serra as an artist that deals with the same gestures of black on white that deals with volume and form. Those things are ever present in my work as well.”

The designer said Serra’s oil stick was very done on heavy ivory paper, “very textured, which is echoed in the choice of the fabric that I use, a very heavy silk jacquard that is a grid through the ivory.” (Although Serra’s work was not Teng’s inspiration, his minimalist sculpture was a point of reference for Christian Siriano’s fall collection including its $5,025 metallic copper Serra sidewinder gown that has been an early bestseller.)

After walking through the gallery Thursday for the first time, Teng described it as “compelling, quite monumental and very strong. The work really plays off well against each other. There is some kind of a visual dialogue going on. It’s a very contained exhibition, so simple, quite elegant but very stark. The gestures are there; they just play off each other.”

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