Daniel Buren’s Les Deux Plateaux (1985-1986) hovered left, right and centre of Marc Jacobs’ Spring 2013 women’s ready-to-wear collection for Louis Vuitton. Buren’s first permanent public commission is sited within the internal courtyard of the Palais Royal – a 17th century palace that is situated opposite to the Louvre and the staging of Jacobs’ most recent parade spectacle.
Les Deux Plateaux is a response to a 3,000 square metre public courtyard that is convex in its topography. Guy Leong describes it as having “a well known psychological effect of all rounded squares [tending] to push people back toward their edges.”1Buren intervenes by distributing a grid of striped columns of multiple heights across the entire square, ameliorating in terms of participation, this emphasis on the edge, by directing a public’s passage and sight across the whole space. While at first the documentation (or as Buren calls PHOTO-SOUVENIR) seems to describe a large but simple spatial strategy, it is on further research that the variability of the grid of columns emerges.2This complexity belies the link many have made between the lengths of Jacobs dresses and skirts – mini, midi and maxi with the height of Buren’s columns. 3Jacobs noting that he wanted something “graphic and simple” for this collection not only productively misreads Buren’s historical critique but sees the two collaborating on the parade’s set design.4What is the relationship between the multi-billion dollar luxury brand and Buren’s project that lies at the intersection of site specificity and institutional critique?
It’s sometimes easy in the contemporary context to either reduce site specificity to a concern of how the windowpane mirrors the width of the respective artwork or unfurls the term discursively to such a degree so that it looses any sense of aesthetic autonomy.5Buren’s “critically reflexive site specificity” however could be understood as being analogous to the sociologist’s Anthony Giddens’ notion of structuration.6Giddens notes “every act which contributes to the reproduction of a structure is also an act of construction, a novel enterprise between structures and agents of the critique of cultural production, enterprise, and as such may initiate change by altering that structure at the same time as it reproduces.”7Buren’s columns reproduce the three-sided colonnades that surround the courtyard. This is extended to three grated pathways that intersect with Buren’s piercing columns and reveal the subterranean space of the drainage systems beneath the courtyard. This space negates and critiques the potential monumental verticality by sometimes reducing the height of a column to a sliver but also allowing it to descend and equate itself to the space of urban utility and a critique of spectacular fountains.
A far more congruent link between fashion and institutional critique could be pursued with the work of the Belgian deconstructionist Martin Margiela and his appointment at Hermes in 1997 – the same year Jacobs joined Vuitton as artistic director. This was a period before Margiela’s sulky spat regarding the apparent commercialisation of his label by Diesel; and the pantomime of critique that was witnessed recently as Margiela the corporation, now lead by a group of anonymous designers, staged a protest as an advertisement outside H & M stores. Margiela’s incisive critique was played out via the retranslation and at times complete and unadulterated appropriation of the old.8Margiela and Jacobs were part of the phenomenon of the period that saw younger designers at the helm of already established fashion houses. Both being responsible for the translation of rich archive that belong to brand identities founded in early to mid 19th century. There is no questioning the commercial imperative that drives the perpetuation of aesthetic and design tropes. These same demands however also require seasonal design shifts, making last season’s collection obsolete due to it temporal relation to the most recent, current, the latest and the new. For 2013 Jacobs reinterpreted the checks found on Vuitton’s classic Damier canvas bag and used it as basis for his collection of mini skirts, cropped jackets and maxi dresses. Whilst in some ways Jacobs was experimenting with the scale, application and material quality of a generic graphic he was also – in what might be considered problematic – using the women’s body as a vehicle for a pattern associated with Vuitton luggage.9Whilst the check is obviously a pattern that Vuitton can not claim to own – the house has a history of litigation over more than just the infringement of its typical LV monogram. Jacobs’ abandonment of any of Vuitton’s more conspicuous branding devices for this collection could be regarded as a territorialisation of this generic motif.
What complicates this reading of the check is its use in Buren’s stage setting. While Buren emblazoned the stripes on the four escalators used in the parade – the check pattern also appears as a more recent predilection in gallery installations that feature pavilion-like-structures. The stripe or what Buren considers as his visual tool is a 8.7 cm wide recurring pattern that has been used since 1965 and is also featured on the columns in Les Deux Plateaux. Buren’s critical aesthetic device connotes the space created by the printed stripes of blinds and shop awnings and is at a total remove from the luxurious social space of Vuitton’s hand embroidered micro-sequins and checks made from trimming individual squares to make a velvet relief. Buren’s stripe can be understood as a tool as it reveals the characteristics of the site it is used in whilst reflexively accounting for its artistic value against its sited condition. I am trying to make sense of the confluence between this artist and designer without falling back on the cynical critique that Buren has somehow sold out or been reduced to a “graphic and simple” minimalist – a historical narrative he is at complete odds with.10This in some ways is a tired line and does not represent the complex discourse that emerges out of the Jacobs/Buren collaboration. In the space of nine minutes Buren continues a long tradition of artist’s work being used in fashion designers prints and decorative motifs. This time however the artist underlines the social context of this appropriation at the same time as acknowledging the affective wonder that he is complicit in.
Guy Lelong, Daniel Buren, trans. David Radzinowicz (Paris: Flammarion, 2002), 99. ↩
The ‘photo-souvenir’ is the translation and publication of Buren’s own site-specific projects into the photographic form. This is an appropriation of the commercial paradigm for a holiday, an object or an image. Daniel Buren, “Photo-souvenirs,” in Contemporary Art: From Studio to Situation, ed., Claire Doherty (London: BlackDog Publishing, 2004), 24 – 27. ↩
Nicole Phelps, Spring 2013 Ready-to-wear Louis Vuitton, STYLE.COM website, http://www.style.com/fashionshows/review/S2013RTW-LVUITTON (accessed October 3, 2012). ↩
Ibid., http://www.style.com/fashionshows/video/S2013RTW-LVUITTON (accessed October 3, 2012). ↩
Jason Gaiger’s critique of Miwon Kwon’s overview of site concerns the broad definition that the notion of ‘site’ takes in One Place After Another: Notes on Site-Specificity. While Gaiger praises Kwon’s adept use of the phenomenological, institutional and discursive to create a historical narrative through the notion of site––he also believes that these ‘paradigms’ could be better used to describe the “progressive relinquishment of the principle of aesthetic autonomy” by canonical modernism in the post 1960s period and highlight how these ideas were “occluded” by high modernism. His key criticisms however concern on the one hand Kwon’s narrow historical perspective of sited practice and on the other the use of ‘discursivity’ that “extends the term [site] beyond its legitimate usage.” Gaiger acknowledges the complexity of Kwon’s positing of discursivity as a characteristic of sited practice but ultimately sees it as first, a weak lens as arguably “reference to a discourse or field of knowledge” can be deduced in most post 1960s art practices; and secondly questions it as a indistinct strategy that potentially dissolves art’s oppositional status of critique even though this is a key intention to its socio-political expansion. Jason Gaiger, “Dismantling the Frame: Site-Specific Art and Aesthetic Autonomy.” British Journal of Aesthetics 49, no. 1 (2009): 43-58. ↩
‘Critically reflexive site specificity’ is a term used frequently by Andrea Fraser to describe strategies practitioners of Institutional Critique utilise. Andrea Fraser, “What is Institutional Critique?,” in Institutional Critique and After, ed. John Welchman (Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2006), 305. ↩
Anthony Giddens, New Rules of Sociological Method (London: Hutchinson , 1976), 128. ↩
When Margiela was at the helm of his label he created a replica range that was to gradually build a permanent collection of garments sourced precisely from second-hand clothing stores, producing them in different sizes season after season. The inside label of each piece clearly identifies the style, the provenance of the original item and the period of production. Some of the items include a 1970s women’s suit from LA, sunglasses from the 1920s and a cotton-pique Henley t-shirt from the 1930s. ↩
The critical implication for how we might read the representation of gender and difference in this and most of Jacobs’ collections is warrants further discussion. Not noted in this essay is the reference to Diane Arbus’ renowned photograph Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967) in the styling and choreography of the models. ↩
Daniel Buren’s Peinture-Sculpture (1971) was removed from the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition on the pressure from a cohort of Minimalists. It might be said that the link between Minimalism and Buren is the commitment to site and serial repetition. The differences being how the social is constituted in site interventions, artistic intentionality and critical outcome. ↩