GSK Contemporary: Aware – Art Fashion Identity, Royal Academy, London

Curators may suggest that artists and designers are of the same stock, but, while there are some lovely things here, art is art – and a frock is a frock

Art has always had its fashions, but has it ever been so fashionable as now? Glossy magazines are full of openings at London galleries – Timothy Taylor, Hauser & Wirth, a brace of White Cubes and Gagosians – attended by the gratin of our day: footballers, television personalities, minor royalty. Hoxton is artistic and fashionable, and it is far from easy to separate the two. From the other side, fashion has increasingly come to look artistic, couture shows aping performance art and the clothes in them sculpture. So an exhibition subtitled Art Fashion Identity makes the heart sink a little, suggesting as it does feverish egos, sloppy thinking and Jimmy Choos.

Actually, Aware, the latest in the GSK Contemporary series, isn't as bad as it sounds. Yes, there are half-hearted attempts to hint that art and fashion might be interchangeable, but this is restricted to the token works in the show made by fashion designers rather than by artists. (Contrary to the claims of Aware's curators, there is a difference.) Yohji Yamamoto's Femme Collection is wooden in more senses than one, the designer's timber-frock-as-a-sign-of-womanly-entrapment being both literally and metaphorically clunky. Alexander McQueen's red-lace dress with built-in veil comes from a 1998 show inspired by the burning of St Joan of Arc. It is beautifully tailored, sexy in a Hans Bellmer way and satisfyingly impractical. But while the making of unwearable frocks may result in useful fashion prototypes, it does not lead to art.

What is the difference? Let us start with that high priest(ess) of the art frock, Grayson Perry, otherwise known as Claire. Facing you as you climb the stairs of what used to be the Museum of Mankind is Perry's Artist's Robe (2004), a magician's cloak with ceramic buttons and heavily embroidered with alchemical signs. Artist's Robe is about all kinds of things – the esoteric nature of creation, the act of making, craft, Perry's fondness for dressing as a woman. More than these, though, it is about the human need to be clothed.

Where Yamamoto and McQueen start from the outside, using the body as a handy hanger for metaphors, Perry starts from the inside, from the personal and visceral, and works outwards. The result is that Artist's Robe is art, McQueen's little red-lace number just a frock. Any resemblance of fashion to art is minor and coincidental, even if the GSK's curators trade on it to plump up visitor numbers. More people read fashion magazines than go to art galleries, after all.

One thing Aware does do is point out the number of contemporary artists who work with clothing (as opposed to fashion). Where the Renaissance was fascinated with the nude, our enthralment has been with the clothed. For Yinka Shonibare MBE, cloth is part of history, his batiks telling both a generic story of post-colonial trade and another of himself as an Anglo-African. As with the flouncy hoop-skirts of Grayson Perry, the very last thing that Shonibare's Little Rich Girls bothers itself with is fashion, except, perhaps, in an anthropological sense.

Nor can the word "fashionable" really be applied to the deterministically named Gillian Wearing's Sixty Minute Silence, in which 26 people, dressed as policemen and ranked in rows as if for a class photo, try to sit still for an hour. For Wearing, clothes are an attempt to impose sameness by overriding the individualism of the body. As the various twitches and scratchings of her subjects show, however, bodiliness will always win out over uniforms – a typically quiet Wearing observation with huge ramifications for power and governance.

There are some lovely things in this show, most eye-catching among them Susie MacMurray's Cruella de Vil ballgown of dressmakers' pins, a neat elision of fashion and fashioning which calls to mind Louise Bourgeois at her blackest. I was also taken by Dai Rees's Carapace: Triptych, made up of three Francis Bacon-ish sides of beef made of handsomely cured leather. Is there an antonym for "recycling"? There is something grotesquely elegant about killing a bull, flaying it, curing its hide and reassembling it as a bull's carcass. From the number of oddly dressed visitors at staring at Carapace the day I went, I fear we may see some take on Rees's installation sashaying down the catwalk next season.



To 30 Jan (020-7300 8000)



Next Week

Charles Darwent squares up to Mondrian at the Pompidou Centre.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us