Nov 28, 2011

REVIEW | Jean Paul Gaultier : From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

Herb Ritts, Madonna and Jean Paul Gaultier, photograph, 1991
On a holiday trip to see the 'rents in Dallas/Fort Worth I had the good fortune to witness the astonishing exhibit of over 130 pieces of Jean Paul Gaultier's haute couture and port-a-pret collections exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art.  Intermingled amongst five rooms of couture-clad, talking, life-like mannequins one finds many contemporary photographs of Gaultier's masterful creations.  I hadn't planned on writing a review as at first thought I didn't deem it to be appropriate for the context of our class.  The more I thought about it, what better representation do we have of crossing boundaries than Gaultier and his contemporaries, transcending the gallery wall through his mix of the effeminate man and fearless woman? Gaultier is a perfect example of how there are very few gaps in the contemporary world between culture and art.  They intermix, as do the subjects of Gaultier's designs.

Staking its claim as art this collection by Jean Paul Gaultier, at a sizable admission price($12 student admission just for this show and even pricier on the weekend), each piece in each collection is given a placard denoting its origin date, material, number of hours to create, and signature collection whether haute couture or port-a-pret.  The collections are accompanied by contemporary photos from photographers such as David LaChapelle and Steven Klein, and video installations from films that Gaultier designed costumes for films like The Fifth Element and Almodovar's latest, The Skin That I Am In.  The exhibit is presented in such a way that you are awestruck by each and every thing that you can see.  The sheer depth of creativity and time to form ideas about each are astounding.  We have seen that as our culture has started to become more technologically advanced that the line is blurred between mediums.  There is room for fashion, film, photography, and performance within the realm of contemporary art.  Not to mention the fact that the gallery is much more accessible that the runway(to an extent) where collections are shown once and then purchased never to be seen by the public again.  The designs have a wide range.   From codpieces and bustiers to scaled mermaid costumes and wire framed gowns with headdresses, to punk and garbage wear.  From The Sidewalk to the Catwalk then is a very appropriate name.

The mannequins are given the highest attention when you walk into the gallery.  You can hear them talking!  You look at their ovoid faces and see their lips magically moving through the use of programmed projections onto their faces and accompanying audio sound.  In the first room you enter even Gaultier himself is standing there wearing his classic sailor outfit and talking to you in his soothing French accent.  This is pretty disturbing, and most of the mannequins are muttering so it is even more disarming this choice to make them so lifelike.  And of course, the things they are wearing are magnificent, some topping 150 hours to create just one look.

Gaultier was one of the first designers in the early 80s and 90s to bring about some kind of social change through fashion.  The so-called gender inversion and revolution was not only something he was a part of, but he also made it accessible and possible for others to "Express" themselves.  Although Jean Paul was quoted as saying that "this is not art," I feel it very much is.  It is master craft, design, influence, inspiration and above all imagination.  He plays with subject matter that can only really be dealt with within the context of fashion.  It is meant to strike at the heart of what is conventional.  Meanwhile having a conversation about what it is to be a unique individual.

One thing sets the Gaultier show apart from other fashion exhibitions such as the Alexander McQueen exhibit earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the upcoming Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Denver Museum of Art this coming Spring, this is not a retrospective.  Jean Paul Gaultier is very much alive and a practicing designer.  Another is that these works are travelling from Montreal, to Dallas, then San Francisco, then Madrid, Spain with a final stop in The Netherlands.  The others solo gallery shows.

It will be up at the Dallas Museum of Art until February 12, 2012.  I highly recommend it!  Actually I plan on going to see it once more before it closes.  It is amazing.

-Sarah Beth Perry

p.s. check out these two sites for addition reviews of the shows that already happened in Montreal:
and for the opening in Dallas.


  1. I was in Dallas and was so bummed I didn't get to see this exhibit, I am glad to see it will be there until February. I agree with your comment about questioning Gaultier's comment about his work not being art. As a witness to the Met's Alexander McQueen exhibit, I can't help but agree to disagree with you. I can't wait to see his crazy mannequins and witness this fashion that is art.

    -Amelia Navarro

  2. Hey Sarah Beth,

    So glad that you also went to the Gaultier show! The part of the show that made me shudder in my bones (other than being a couture whore) was the feeling of discomfort when the animatronic mannequins bequeathed sideways glances at the audience. I felt as if the hollow beings were real models, and they were unexcited that I was enthralled by the garments that they were wearing. It was a innovative way of displaying a collection that was not just mannequins standing silently.

    My mom has gone five times thus far and has reported to me that the exhibit changes every visit. Gaultier adds to the collection every week to keep the revisiting audience activated still (very clever).

    Did you check out the beaded fox gown that took 1005 hours to craft?

    Catherine E. Rigdon