In 1997, The Whitney Museum unveiled “The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion,” a fashion-focused exhibit on the artist’s influence on style. To celebrate, the then-uptown museum opened its doors for a party, which drew Carolyn Bessette, John Kennedy Jr., Martha Stewart and Graydon Carter. Duran Duran performed at a virtual “Factory Party” going on downstairs, taking the stage in what was called the “Warhol Zone.” Adorning the room where the party took place: videos and images displayed on the walls and a ceiling swathed in mylar, silver clouds.
The museum, since relocated downtown to the Meatpacking neighborhood, hasn’t put on a fashion exhibit since. But this year, The Whitney is in the midst of unveiling its first style-focused exhibit since — one that sings of the here and now.
“Eckhaus Latta: Possessed” is a collaboration between the designers Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, along with 21 other artists called upon to contribute. It’s part of the museum’s Emerging Artists program, run by co-curator Christopher Lew, who notes this is Eckhaus Latta’s first solo show at an institution.
Lew says he’s been watching the designers for years, attending their fashion shows and observing the way they embrace collaboration. “The way they’re thinking about fashion in their own designs is such a similar process to the way that visual artists work,” he says.
The three-part installation plays on well-known fashion campaigns and editorial spreads reimagined by Eckhaus and Latta, along with a darkened room displaying video surveillance on screens. But what’s special about “Possessed” is that, for the first time in the museum’s history, the exhibit will feature what it’s calling an “operational retail environment” — aka a shop — inside of it. Limited-edition Eckhaus Latta wares will be on sale, and sales associates will be available to answer questions and help museumgoers — or customers, as it were — into on-site dressing rooms. The 21 artists, Susan Cianciolo and Lauren Davis Fisher among them, helped build the shelving units and racks upon which the clothing for sale hangs.
It’s this mix of experiential retail, limited-run merch sold at an event, and a collaborative spirit that feels so of the now, says Lauri London Freedman, who works as head of product development at The Whitney. The Warhol era might have had Duran Duran and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, but Millennial museumgoers have Instagrammable moments at art exhibits.
“A lot of the ways these themes are going to connect is by creating this environment that seems natural to the idea of shopping,” Freedman says. “If you go into a store, when you see clothes on a rack, on a hanger, you rarely need to ask a salesperson whether or not you’re allowed to touch it. In a gallery, even in a space where art is meant to be touched, generally there’s signage or a docent, or someone who’s there to tell you you’re allowed to touch it. Here, the fact that there are clothing racks will intimate to you that you can interact with it.
“It’s going to tie together because it’s all going to be very familiar. The fact that it’s in a gallery? That’s what’s unfamiliar.”
“Eckhaus Latta: Possessed” will run from Aug. 3 through Oct. 8 inside the John R. Eckel Jr. Foundation Gallery at The Whitney Museum.
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