"Fashion As Muse" at Studio Montclair

"Fashion As Muse" at Studio Montclair

Look through the history of art, and you’ll quickly find that it isn’t uncommon for fashion designers to borrow ideas for clothing from a painting or sculpture. “There has always been this trend where designers will copy contemporary art,” explains Virginia Block, the founding president of New Jersey art group Studio Montclair.

One of the most iconic examples, Block notes, is legendary French designer Yves Saint Laurent, who in 1965 introduced a famed series of dresses featuring blocks of primary colors inspired by the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

But for Studio Montclair’s latest exhibit, Block and her co-curators wanted to examine the “reverse” of that trend. Hence, “Fashion As Muse” — which runs through August 12 inside the Academy Square building in downtown Montclair — features paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints that are in some way inspired by fashion.

The result is a wildly eclectic collection of pieces by artists from New Jersey and beyond, commenting on fashion’s mix of beauty, oddity and controversy.

“The distinction between fashion and art has become more indistinguishable,” says Karen Nielsen-Fried, who co-curated the exhibit with Block and Patricia Selden. “And the two often interweave and influence one another more notably in contemporary times.”

Walk in the gallery’s front door, and you’re greeted by Linda Brooks Hirschman’s “Americana,” a sculpture of a flower arrangement made from red, white and blue fabric. Around the corner is a series of archival photographs by Berkeley Heights resident Nancy Ori showing the backs of Victorian dresses.

Just past that is “Tagged,” a print by Amy Becker of a woman clothed in a trendy purple top and light green skirt — who doesn’t know one of her tags is showing.

“That person got dressed and thought they were fashionable, but they never looked in the mirror,” Block says. “That’s funny.”

Climb to the second floor, and you’ll see a piece created by a junior at Montclair High School: Lexie Rechan’s “Carolina the Blur,” a blurry digital photo of a woman walking down a city street in a white top and purple shorts. Down the hallway is South Orange resident Ron Brown’s “Fashion Foto” series, featuring sepia-toned shots of women’s legs in fishnet stockings.

Other artists in the collection include Alice Harrison, Eric Levin, Elizabeth Jane Munro, Christine Parker, Matt Roberts, and Florence Weisz. All 11 of the above belong to Studio Montclair, a group founded in 1996.

But the organization also did something new with this show. Usually, they ask artists to submit entries. This time, they also specifically invited a pair of artists from the fashion world itself to contribute pieces: photographer Claire Rosen, a Montclair resident, and designer Fabiola Arias, a Jersey City resident.

“The concept was to invite talented artists who work professionally in the fashion industry and blend their knowledge, inspiration and talent to create works of fine art,” co-curator Selden says.

Rosen, known for her fairy tale-like imagery, created one of the most jarring works in the exhibit: “Aves,” a series of prints featuring women in long black dresses — but with bird’s heads replacing their own.

Arias, a graduate of the Parson School of Design, has created gowns worn on the runway during Fashion Week in New York and seen in Neiman Marcus stores. But she actually began her studies as a painter. She says she uses that background in her fashion work, utilizing fabric the way Impressionists use paint on a canvas. “Yemaya,” one of her pieces in the collection, is a surreal collage showing elegant drawings of fashion models cloaked in bright blue dresses.

But Kathryn Eddy, a Studio Montclair member and borough resident, approached the exhibit’s theme from a much different — and striking — angle. Her work “Pig Blindness” is a series of collages featuring pigs with human eyes and the faces of celebrities like Bruce Willis, Katie Couric, Diane Keaton and Jimmy Fallon cut out of magazines — with their eyes removed.

“We live in a society that is obsessed with looking at celebrities and fashion, and fashion magazines provide us with the perfect venue,” Eddy explains. “At the same time, we disavow the serious abuse of farmed animals caught up in the web of our food industries. This series points out our obsessive fashion voyeurism and our blindness towards our farmed food animals.”

It’s all part of what Block calls a “stimulating show.”

“People tend to think, ‘Oh, fashion is always geared toward women or supermodels,” she says. “But it’s not.”

The exhibit runs until August 12, 2013 at the SMI Galleries at Academy Square, 33 Plymouth Street (1st & 2nd Floors) Montclair, NJ 07042, and is open Monday-Friday 7a.m.-7p.m. Call 973-744-1818 for more information.

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