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These Windows Look In
by Allan Appel | Aug 13, 2013 12:30 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Visual Arts
In 1980 Alan Neider wrapped five columns of a building in Chicago with painted and stained fabric. A young fashion designer walked by. He liked what he saw. After the installation was completed, he bought 50 yards of the stuff from Neider, out of which he made 12 one-of-a-kind designer raincoats.
Ever since, the Neider has been working in that ever-moving crossroads where, for better or for worse, fashion and art zoom toward or past each other. That includes dressing up and playing visual tricks not only with dresses, but on the windows that offer fashion out to the world.
These colorful visual investigations are strutting their stuff in the latest exhibition at the ever-busy Institute Library’s gallery, where curator Stephen Kobasa is offering up Neider’s Dressing Up: Recent Works.
An opening reception Saturday afternoon drew friends and admirers and some who might have seen streaks of color flashing out of the Institute Library’s third-floor window, now covered with painted fabric (pictured), and visible on the far side of Chapel Street below.
That’s because the most dressed-up item in the show is not any of the five dresses whose tops are polo shirts stuffed with batting—we’ll get to those below—but the center window of the Institute Library’s gallery overlooking Chapel Street.
Here Neider has constructed a hanging of window curtains. Made of a steel superstructure with stained and painted fabric on three sides, the construction doesn’t so much hang as jut inward toward the interior space of the building. It’s like a covered loggia, only it’s going, humorously, in the wrong direction
Neider said he likes working in windows because “I’m interested in dimensionality and of the light bouncing through in a random way.”
But there’s more to it. He’s after being shocking, but shocking in a modest way, like a dress that calls attention but is still wearable.
Whereas window curtains often frame the way we view the world, he writes in his artist’s statement, “I have in fact made the curtain itself the view.”
The window space also offers Neider a ready-made space to paint on that is not flat and that also suits his agenda because painting only on canvas or any simple flat surface won’t do for him. Flat seems good for starters, but it’s better if the flatness also morphs into bumps and curves, such as a dress.
“It’s Not a Female Thing”
He’s showing the first five of ten painted dresses in the exhibition as well. If you look carefully at the tunic of the dress, you might see a distinctly male element.
“I had these polo shirts [around] because I used to teach tennis. that was the foundation,” he said.
Because he wanted more surface to paint on, Neider said he stuffed the arms of the polo shirt with batting, so he had rounded surfaces there. Likewise, there are bumps and nodes to paint on the dress shape as well as its background.
“I go to great lengths to create objects and surfaces to paint on. I definitely need to have things coming out,” he said.
He said his next five dresses are going to be built around five striped men’s dress shirts that he recently picked up in the Salvation Army thrift store in Hamden.
“So it’s not a female thing,” he added.
Curator Kobasa’s take on Neider’s work is different. “It’s the pageantry for me,” Kobasa said as he greeted people on Saturday.
“[These are] like a Renaissance festival [garment], dancing in the streets, Harlequins, that kind of energy [in the coloring and designs]. It’s post-apocalyptic commedia dell’arte,” he said.
Another visitor was overheard to say “the more you look, the more you see the arabesques, the visual punning.”
Yet another viewer had a more skeptical view of the hectic business of the painted-all-over surfaces.
“Nice,” she said, “but he doesn’t know where to stop. Like Matisse.”
The show is on view through Aug. 24.
Tags: Alan Neider, Iinstitute LIbrary
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