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Viviane Sassen: In and Out of Fashion

Huis Marseille – museum voor fotografie, Amsterdam, Netherlands

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In Bloom (For Dazed & Confused), 2011

Viviane Sassen’s retrospective, ‘In and Out of Fashion’, stretches across all of the available galleries at Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, and demonstrates in a number of innovative ways the crossover between fashion and art photography. Chief among the methods of display is the intelligent collision of Huis Marseille’s 17th-century interior with the contemporary works on show. This overlap of regal architectural beauty and graphic, bright, eye-catching prints is a characteristic motif of the museum. However, in Sassen’s exhibition, the interplay between style and genre becomes something both conceptual and downright physical. Thus the formal galleries help to immediately assert what the exhibition text refers to a ‘museuological touch’ to Sassen’s depiction of a ‘fleeting fashion world’.

As its title implies, ‘In and Out of Fashion’ is a compilation of Sassen’s commissioned fashion shoots for a variety of publications. But the work transcends commercial fashion, in which clothing and trends are the centres of attention, and finds a connection to other aspects of her oeuvre, such as her interest in dramatic shadows, textures and an attention to the body that is warm with colour but held at a investigative distance. Nothing in this exhibition is weighed down or heavily defined. Rather, the images are organized within six open themes: ‘Moonmaiden’, ‘Foreplay’, ‘Analemma’, ‘Nudes A Journey’, ‘Roxane’ and ‘Archive’. These themes combine Sassen’s editorial fashion assignments with her layered images about the photographic process, sketches, intimate portraits, nudes and nature.

The overlap of these categories is present in several images of a behind-the-scenes examination of a fashion shoot, in which crisscrossing clothing, landscapes and bodies form geometric abstractions. In Untitled #6 Catherina and Grace (2010), a model glances up from the shadow of a crouching female, while an arm stretches from outside the frame to apply makeup. The bright yellow backdrop draws the eye to several different focal points at once: the figures to the right, the striking silhouette of tree branches and the landscape peeking out from behind this constructed scene. There is a life and a context in these works, which explore the flexibility of the human form as a visual anchor for light, texture and shadow. 

The physical elements of Sassen’s work are further accentuated by the variety of installation and framing techniques. The images in ‘Moonmaiden’ are unframed, loosely hung on the walls and printed on long, slightly furled canvas. Untitled #1, 2011 For POP Magazine (2011), is striking for its subterranean feel. The image of a model in the sand is inverted; only the shadow that curls up around the body distinguishes it from the sea green monochrome print. The photograph’s flexible presentation is reminiscent of a glossy street advertisement, yet with the curves of the body mimicking the texture of the canvas, the photograph is rendered painterly. Thus the curators elevate, or choose to acknowledge the possibilities of fashion photography outside the boundaries of the fashion world.

In Analemma (2011) – a video installation, archive and fashion show in one – a large mirror is placed against one gallery wall to reflect scrolling images of Sassen’s works throughout the exhibition and beyond. Here Huis Marseille asserts that the archive, like fashion, is something present, moving and flexible. The analemma – the figure eight that maps the position of the sun in relation to time – is perhaps an ideal symbol for ‘In and Out of Fashion’, as the exhibition searches for a tangible and tactile way to present something constantly changing. Sassen’s work seems to halt the frenetic forward progression of fashion in an instant, using the most elemental tools: the arc of the body and the shadows of the sun.

Annie Goodner


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About this review

Published on 21/01/13
by Annie Goodner


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