The Weasel

Shoes made of monkey fur and a jacket appliqued with glasses of creme de menthe outdo the fabled wit of the native Yorkshireman
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Though the ceaseless kaleidoscopic round of the fashion biz seems to me as pointlessly repetitive as the football season, I was much taken by Addressing the Century, the current Hayward exhibition which probes the intimate relationship between art and fashion. Not that it is a particularly easy show to appreciate, partly because the hordes of fashion students tend to distract one's attention, and partly because of the idiosyncratic design by Zaha Hadid, an architect best known for the works she hasn't built.

In the first room, which contains such treasures as a mandarin costume by Matisse, and a pair of jim-jams by Vanessa Bell, an attendant has to point out the existence of a display-case, hidden above visitors' heads. It contains a turquoise number by Mariano Fortuny, who discovered the mini-pleat 80 years before Issey Miyake.

Similarly, "Man's Working Suit" - grey wool with black leather cuffs, placket and fly - designed in 1922 by the constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, could happily be worn today by any fashionable young dude on South Moulton Street. In case any visitor has an urge to don the exhibits, a notice warns: "Touching, even with clean hands, will damage the works. There are works you can touch and try on in the dressing room." It is hard to imagine many visitors being tempted to don a 1938 ensemble by surrealist Andre Masson adjacent to the sign: it consists of a wooden birdcage worn over the head of a naked mannequin.

Other surreal garments include a pair of tiny shoes by Schiaparelli in monkey fur, which resemble shrunken heads, and Dali's1936 "Aphrodisiac Jacket", covered with half-filled glasses of creme de menthe. According to Ian Gibson's biography, the practical Spaniard insisted that the garment "would be suitable for outings on evenings meteorologically calm, but pregnant with human emotion, provided that the person wearing it were transported in a powerful machine travelling very slowly".

The final section of the exhibition reveals that contemporary fashions are much more utilitarian. A 1994 dress by Emily Bates, approximately 10ft long by 1ft wide, is made from "spun and knitted human hair". The sculptor Christo displays a wedding dress from 1967, consisting of a white silk hot pants suit and massive silk-wrapped boulder, which the bride lugs behind her on tethers. A woollen dress by the Japanese designer, Yayoi Kusama, is enhanced by what the exhibition catalogue delicately describes as "an obsessive proliferation of nasty-looking accretions".

I made my way to the dressing room, where it is possible to wear items designed by the current crop of fashion graduates - though it is hard to see how "Translation" by Mee Kyoung Shin could be "worn" in any conventional sense: a life-size figure in flowing classical robes, it is carved from soap. ("Smells of school," observed one young visitor.) As the nights grow cold, it is possible to see the appeal of the zip-up "Cocoon" by Laura Robinson. Somehow, however, I doubt if the strap-on, inflatable "Urinal" by Valerie MacFarlane will catch on as an gent's accessory. But you can never tell.

ON OUR intermittent trips up north, Mrs W and I usually acquire a copy of The Dalesman, a small-format but large-circulation monthly, devoted to a sentimental appreciation of rural Yorkshire. Despite our patchy local knowledge, it is the only publication in which we attempt the crossword. In the September issue, we romped through such clues as "Unbending (5)", or "Papa (5)", only to come radically unstuck with "Small settlement in Langstrothdale (13)". While scratching our noggins over this intractable conundrum in a North Yorks pub, the journal was snatched from us by a northern know-all. "It's Yockenthwaite, o'course," he crowed. "Tha' knows nowt." Like many others in this neck of the woods, this knowledgeable fellow hailed from Curmudgeonly, Yorkshire"s most populous community.

However, my fondness for "Yorkshire's favourite magazine" has diminished more than somewhat following a recent change of editorial tack. Instead of the features on dry-stone walls, or curiously carved shepherd's crooks, The Dalesman has jumped on the celebrity bandwagon. In September, the magazine enticingly boasted "Mike Harding's Dales Folk" on the cover. "A very beautiful place," opined the pawky comic. "That's why I want to spend so much time here." The November issue trumpeted "Fred Trueman's Dales". The cricketing loudmouth pronounced: "I usually refer to the dales as `God's Country'."

It is tantalising to conjecture which other stellar Yorkies will offer their insights about this well-favoured patch. Sir James Savile OBE or Geoffrey Boycott? Dickie Bird or William Hague? The mind boggles at the feast of wit in store.

SORRY, MORE about gasometers. Suddenly, these tumescent leviathans are flavour of the month in the art world. Last week, I effused over Mark Cazalet's splendid paintings on this theme at the Museum of London. This week, I trotted along to the Camden Arts Centre in West Hampstead, where Bernd and Hilla Becher are displaying 10 recent photographs of gasholders in the north of England, along with 30-odd studies of lime kilns and water towers. Sarah Kent, Time Out's art critic, shares my enthusiasm: "Who would have envisaged the majesty of a five-storey gasholder in St Helens?"

The Teutonic twosome, who teach art in Dusseldorf, have been photographing gas holders and suchlike since 1957. The results are impressively austere and deadpan. It was a striking experience to observe the large monochrome prints, with the accompaniment of atonal piano music from an adjoining room. A shame Mrs W wasn't there to share the moment - but she might not miss out entirely. Don't let on, but instead of the customary fragrance, the treat in her stocking on the 25th of next month could be Gas Tanks 1963-1992 (MIT Press, pounds 51.95); 102 prints by Bernd and Hilla. A whiff with a difference for the lucky girl.

COMBINING style and grand guignol, the movie Elizabeth (pictured) is an unusually authentic bio-pic. But I have doubts concerning the elegant dance scenes. In the excellent biography, Philip of Spain by Henry Kamen (Yale, pounds 9.95), when Philip visited England, his courtiers complained: "All their celebrations consist of eating and drinking, they think of nothing else." The Spaniards also found the English "white, pink, and quarrelsome". How things have changed since 1554.

Comments