Buffered by a main road and industrial estates on one side, and a river on the other, is The Hepworth in Wakefield – a rough concrete beacon of art, below brooding grey skies. This year has seen it hosts its first ever fashion-related exhibition, JW Anderson Curates the Hepworth Wakefield, drawing the industry and locals in to what is a tactile and sumptuous display of the human form in its many contorted, twisted, visceral interpretations, through art and fashion.
Fashion Designer JW Anderson selected sculpture, design and ceramics from the Museum’s own collection, expertly placing them alongside seminal fashion pieces, from Jean Paul Gaultier’s conical bra dress to Issey Miyake’s corrugated angular pieces, sculptural in both their philosophy and construction (for its SS16 collection, the brand baked garments in an oven, like kiln-firing clay).
Anderson’s own interest in the human form – its ugliness and beauty – has been at the heart of his namesake brand and marks this exhibition as personal and intimate. The body is an emotive and at times emotional subject – the vessel carrying us through life – and Anderson charts through through nuanced references and stark contrasts (Louise Bourgeois’ bulbous forms, next to Giacometti’s emaciated streaks).
Striking was the lack of gallery white walls, almost wholly banished. Instead, JW Anderson fabrics swathe the walls and form compartments throughout the gallery, hiding and revealing classic Eileen Gray chairs and Comme Des Garcons masterpieces, while also creating intimacy and closed down spaces that are soft and womb-like. Placement is also key – a Henry Moore reclining figure is silhouetted by the conical bra dress, which Anderson has stretched into an exaggerated form, with swollen pregnant belly and mountain-top breasts.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his position in an industry that expects bodies to comply to very specific standards of beauty, Anderson seems to revel in the disobedience of the human form here.
Tactility is something Anderson has thought carefully about, and you feel his frustration with most exhibitions (particularly fashion exhibitions, where mannequins are displayed in the distance, or in glass cases, sucking all life out of the garments). For Disobedient Bodies, Anderson reproduced some of his best known knitwear in exaggerated scales – jumpers hang from the ceiling with lengthened arms and bodies that reach the ground 30 foot below, making for a colourful jungle of sleeves, which are meant to be twisted and plaited and played with by visitors. A series of portraits taken by his friend and longtime collaborator Photographer Jamie Hawskworth depict local school children, wearing Comme des Garcons and Miyake over their uniforms, beaming with pride and bewilderment.
This exhibition, in location and realisation, breaks away from the confines of the fashion world, by brilliantly blending different forms of artistic expression regardless of genre, but also through playful and approachable curation; and most of all, through its exploration of this most intimate and personal subject matter – the human body, unclothed and clothed, objectified and worshipped, idealised and criticised throughout history.