6 May 2016

Missoni Art Colour exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum

My sister was staying with me in London for a couple of days and I suggested a few things that we might fill the days with and while she was not so keen on going to the theatre she was interested in the Missoni exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum because she had not been there before and had three Missoni scarves.

Getting there was fairly straightforward but slowish; a bus to Richmond passing through some road works, a bit of a wait for a train to Waterloo, a trek across the station to the Jubilee Line to get to London Bridge and a final walk under railway lines in Bermondsey to get to the museum.

After that minor ordeal we started off in the cafe where I had a fruit juice called something like a Zesty Zandra and a toasted goat's cheese sandwich. All very nice if a little pricey at the best part of £10. It did the job and I was refreshed and ready for the exhibition.

My Art Card gave me a 50% discount for the exhibition so I only paid £4.50 to get in. That was good value however you look at it and even better when compared to the lunch.

I do not own any Missoni scarves so I went in with few preconceptions, the only clue I had on what to expect was the poster above with its bars of different colours. I had seen similar samples at the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at Tate Modern and I had been intrigued, and impressed, by the careful planning of colours and how they work together.

It came as a surprise that the exhibition began with some pictures, i.e. proper art. They were there to explain the context of the Missoni work in fashion by showing how similar themes were being explored in mainstream art. This started in the '50s when abstract art with its reliance on shape and colour was becoming more prominent, though it had started a few decades earlier. One reason that fashion had lagged behind painting was that fashion is generally more conservative and another is that, as one of the videos explained, the technology was simply not there. In Missoni's early days machines could only weave stripes and the more complex ideas appearing in art could simply not be copied.

The extent to which this was experimental was shown by the many sheets of paper where colours and patterns were carefully tested.

I had seen similar experimental work by artists at other exhibitions and I love the way that they show the artist's working out of things such as which colours go well with others. Here as well as a multitude of colours there were simple patterns and next to them more complex ones where the straight lines of triangles had been bent into experimental curves.

The importance of this design phase in the work is shown by the exhibitions logo (at the top) which consisted of coloured lines and made no reference to the fabric made using them.

These geometric designs featured throughout the exhibition and were most notable in the collection of wall hangings in the main room.

A small section of one of these is shown below. It is an almost ridiculous collection of lines and colours that combine to make something striking. This was a very large piece overall and looked as though it belonged on the stairway of a grand mansion. It certainly needed somewhere the size of the main room to contain it, let alone to show it off fairly.

The main element in the main room was a collection of mannequins (below). This was a clever display but it took me most of the afternoon to work out how clever. It is not that obvious from this angle (that is my excuse) but the mannequins were dressed in stripes of colours that ran diagonally from bottom-left to top-right. The orange mannequins are the best clue and the stripe in front of them is green. These stripes were obvious, once spotted, from the right angle on the ground floor.

It also took me a while to work out that the lighting that I complained about was part of the effect and different elements of the display were lit in a cycle as a clock ticked somewhere in the background. Once I realised this all I had to do was wait for the phase when all the lights were on to take my picture.

What did surprise me was how timid most of the colours were and because of that how subdued most of the garments were. It took some close inspection to identify some outfits that looked sensible in today's eyes. One of these was the checked coat worn by the mannequin with the blue hat at the top-right of the collection.

There were other rooms and other things to see. There were some videos running on continuous loops, some carpets that looked rather like ones that I grew up with and more paintings by contemporary artists. It was not a vast exhibition, he Fashion and Textile Museum is not a big place, but there was plenty to see and much of it warranted spending some time looking at, particularly in the detail of the patterns and the colours used.

I return to another sample sheet for my final image. These samples are in fabric rather than paint and the patterns are more complex which shows how much the ideas and technology evolved. I could find somewhere in my house for this particular display even though it is just a collection of samples as the combination of shapes and colours is arresting. I returned to this display several times.

While I have never been that interested in fashion (as my wardrobe testifies) a well curated exhibition will always interest me, much as In our Time does whatever Melvyn Bragg is discussing, and I found plenty to stimulate and entertain me in Missoni Art Colour.

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