A Marxist Fashion Show: It sounds like a oxymoron, no? How can a symbol of luxury and excess be associated with the father of class warfare? Austrian born artist Ranier Ganahl dared meld these diametrically opposing worlds in his latest project, an exhibition of fashion-related artworks displayed in a mix performance art and catwalk collection. White Columns played host to two packed showings of “COMME DES MARXISTS,” which featured fellow artists and poets, as well as their children, as models. The gallery staff followed Ganahl’s suit in using of the social-movement based “people’s mic.” Gallery staffers chanted along to farcical phrases such as “Karl Marx speaks Chinese” and “Karl Marx lives in a Greenhouse” as the garments paraded in front of the crowd.
Marx, a prolific leader and political mind, would most likely have turned up his nose to this less than thought-provoking attempt at social commentary. The garments, mostly made of an expensive felt, seemed deeply ironic in their lack of functionality and excessive cost that Ganahl boasted freely about at the end of the runway.
The pieces used only the most basic stitching and construction, with almost all of their punch derived from text patches rather than the design aesthetic. When COMME DES MARXISTS attempted something more difficult, like a pair of pants, the novice quality showed all too much.
Additionally, Ganahl’s social commentary, spoken exclusively with cliches and iconic symbols, was basic and predictable. The performance art was repetitive, sloppy, and distancing to the audience through the bombardment of anti-capitalist jargon. Ganahl, with his abundant sense of playful, frenetic energy apparent as he rushed about the space documenting the fashion show himself, had his humor lost in the disorganization. The sporadic laughter, then, was more often at the performance, and not with the artist.
The most successful pieces, though, were the installations throughout the space. Presenting some garments on the gallery walls, such as tied, wrinkled and detourned luxury silk scarves, at least provided a chance to question the line between clothing and fine art.
An inviting concept in abstraction, COMME DE MARXIST’s juxtaposition of Marxism and luxe brands wasn’t explored deeply enough.
Text and photographs by Justin McCallum.