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

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before