Alessandro Michele: The Artist is Present
In 2018, a new set of murals filled the streets of London, New York, Hong Kong and Milan. In each of these cities, a mural with the painted face Marina Abramović appeared. Alongside her portrait reads, “Maurizio Cattelan: The Artist is Present.” There is an additional subtext, “Gucci,” demarcated with a time and a place. For the art enthusiast, the murals hark back to Abramović’s performance exhibition at MoMA in March of 2010, where she sat face to face in front of thousands, eight hours a day, for three months. For those who have followed Gucci, the art murals are a recollection of the style of Gucci’s Creative Director Alessandro Michele, which brings together art, cinema, and culture.
This is not the first time Michele has fused art and fashion together. Throughout his three-year tenure as Gucci’s Creative Director, Michele has worked with countless artists to form a cult appeal. His vision transcends the medium of fashion to drive the explosive growth of his fashion house. In his 2018 Spring/Summer collection “Utopian Fantasy”, Michele worked with Spanish artist Ignasi Monreal to take the bold antiquity of “[classic] symbols” and “[filter them through his] way of thinking, to be translated and enter a new era.” Michele and Monreal reimagined famous Renaissance works with the characters now clad in Gucci.
From Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” to Phillipe de Champaigne’s “The Annuciation,” Michele and Monreal took the timelessness of Renaissance art and infused those aspects into the collection to create a “Utopian Fantasy.” Michele sought to copy iconic elements of the past and present to mix and match a fascinating visual experience. Michele took the idea purported by designer Yohji Yamamoto’s words, to “start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.” His amalgamation of art, culture, and cinema has propelled him to the throne of copy and paste in fashion.
Now, he pushes further into the realm of art with an exhibition that begins by borrowing from another artist. The exhibition, “The Artist is Present,” named after Abramović’s celebrated performance at the MoMA, seeks to explore the role of the artist or the creator amidst a world rife with appropriation, with copying and pasting. As Maurizio Cattelan, Italian artist and the curator of the exhibition, said: “Copying is like a blasphemy: it could seem not respectful towards God, but at the same time is the significative recognition of its existence.” The exhibit opened on October 11th at the Yuz museum in Shanghai, an apt location given Shanghai’s huge market for replicas and knock-offs. The exhibition spotlights 30 different artists, each with a room devoted to their own work.
In one room, artist Kapwani Kiwanga recreates the iconic view of the Hollywood sign. In another, artist Andy Hung recreates the celebrated Gucci Sylvie bag entirely out of Legos. The latter perhaps pokes fun at Gucci itself, considering Gucci’s ongoing legal battles with fast fashion companies including Forever 21 in copying their designs. It has become more and more difficult for both independent designers and fashion houses to maintain their originality amidst a culture where fast fashion constantly feeds copies to the consumer. Michele has brought together an exhibition important to the dialogue between originality and imitation, between creators and consumers, in an effort to recognize the artists behind the designs.