After a successful opening at La Triennale di Milano last December, Rick Owens’ retrospective, “Subhuman Inhuman Superhuman,” has crossed the Atlantic. However, you won’t find it exhibited at an art museum. Owens’ body of work has taken up residence through June 3 at Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue flagship, with a satellite exhibit at the retailer’s downtown store.
The show — Barneys’ first exhibition — captures nearly a quarter century of Owens’ innovation and influence, illustrating the evolution of his career as a fashion designer and artist. The retrospective features a re-creation of his earth work sculptures, which he described as “the idea of shapeless primordiality and eternity. Against a white space, I wanted to have a very primal element. It really is supposed to represent something urgent, a kind of a creative primal force that we all have.”
The sculptures, which occupy Barneys’ four Madison Avenue windows, look like burnt flesh, which is sometimes twisted and bound. At the time of the Milan retrospective, Owens said they’re “composed of concrete, lilies, my hair and the earth from the seaside in Venice where I will someday be buried.”
Pieces from Owens’ archives include more than 20 garments displayed on mannequins; furniture; display cases featuring objects, including lookbooks, sketches, prototypes and mementos, and runway videos and video art, installed inside the flagship.
Barneys re-created the architectural elements from the Milan exhibition, which are shown on the third and fourth floors. The designer’s work across different mediums and time periods illustrates Owens’ challenges to society’s circumscribed beauty standards.
The windows of Barneys’ downtown store feature films from the retrospective, against a minimalist “mud room” window. Freds at Barneys New York Downtown launched a designer burger series designed by Owens and featuring locally sourced, grass-fed, non-GMO, Animal Welfare-approved beef and cheese, an edible ribbon on the burger with a bun branded with a Rick Owens logo iron.
The idea for the exhibition came from Daniella Vitale, Barneys chief executive officer, according to Matthew Mazzucca, the retailer’s creative director. “She said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring it to the stores and give it a second life?’” he said. “We have a lot of core Rick Owens fans.”
Barneys’ exhibition is scaled back from the original Milan show, which featured 100 pieces of fashion. “We have 20-plus, which Rick felt was still a lot,” Mazzucca said. “My [goal] was to get as much as I could into the store to show the scope. We really pushed it out. In one sense it’s a reduction, but there’s representation of every single element in the show.”
Owens is not as well-known outside his fan base. Mazzucca said, “This is going to reintroduce him in a lot of ways. It will open up a better understanding of who he is. It will even give his hardcore fans a little education and educate new customers. We’ve carried him from the very beginning. We have sales staff who remember the day he launched — it was very dark and very intense.”
As if this isn’t enough, Owens on Wednesday will be featured in an episode of “The Barneys Podcast,” a new weekly platform that features discussions between creatives from several fields and in-house Barneys hosts, who are authorities in the same area.
Mazzucca said the multiplatform approach to the retrospective is Barneys’ template moving forward. “The installation, satellite installation, windows, podcast and burger — we’re going to do more of these projects as Barneys, and as a brand. We’re going to have less of a window focus and more of an engagement focus,” he said.