“Richard Wentworth at Maison Alaïa” is a notable exhibition for anyone focusing on the issue of master craftsmanship and production of fashion behind-the-scenes, interestingly located in Alaïa’s own art gallery, on the ground floor of his headquarters in the Marais, in Paris. Renown for marching to the beat of his own drum in every aspect of his work, the designer did hit his mark again with the not-to-be-missed exhibition conveying his art of couture and details with a totally sensible, personal and high-octane touch ─ miles away from increasing clichés evoking master craftsmanship and ateliers spreading as “backstage stories” to convey a much sought-after “authenticity” and “proximity” with consumers by brands wishing to firmly root their own artisanal know-how as a prestigious distinctive element. Not that they may not be legitimate to do it, on the contrary, they could do it with more creativity. That is why the “Richard Wentworth at Maison Alaïa” exhibition is notable: it unveils one illustration of a fruitful exploration of how to ─ artistically ─ account for the richness of the world of materials and know-how inherent to artisanal and creative processes of a fashion house.
First, the uniqueness of the exhibition obviously owns it to the photographer’s great talent, Richard Wentworth, a leading figure in contemporary art. Nurtured by an acute study of material culture, his work represents a system of revelations for the hidden meanings of things, explains the gallery. The material of the scenography itself, construction wood, has been used as a support and frames to the artworks to obviously refer to the making process. More unexpectedly is the playful mirror image of the material staged by the artist fostering a benevolent complicity with the visitors.
Second, the British artist is a friend of the fashion house where he has been a regular guest over the past three years at Alaïa’s headquarters, at 7 rue de Moussy, where this work evolved as part of an ongoing interest in assembling images for his archive of the world. We learn that during his visits, Wentworth was granted full access to the manifold aspects of Maison Alaïa, from the creative studio to the ateliers, archives and the many other spaces that constitute the life of the great couture house. The time to explore and understand the master craftsmanship and work of the designer definitely translate into the meaningful images featuring the sense of details inherent to couture. As a whole, they offer a vision of the world of Azzedine Alaïa. A book unveiling the reflection at work that led to the exhibition along with the mutual understanding between the designer and artist is published on the occasion.
All in all, we are made to witness the designer at work, the presentation of collections, the preparation of the fashion shows, the ateliers at work, but also the architecture of the industrial age buildings; there are also the signs of the daily life of the community gathered around the designer. Every image is like a still life, a fragment of life and couture, a portrait of the world of Azzedine Alaïa, who describes the artist’s work in these terms: “Richard’s eye is wonderful. He has made me see things I do not see, I do not pay attention to. He sees it all. I am very private, but never, with him, have I sensed a difficult presence. He makes us see things in a way we would never have seen them.”A kind of win-win situation we get to enjoy the artistic outcome as well. An exhibition coming as a stunning surprise to enjoy at the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa until November 26th 2017.
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