Jonathan Anderson Talks To R29 About His New Exhibition Disobedient Bodies

Photo: Lewis Ronald
Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield
Last month, Jonathan Anderson presented his AW17 collection for his eponymous label at London Fashion Week, then just a fortnight ago he unveiled his AW17 collection for Loewe, the Spanish luxury brand of which he is Creative Director. Tomorrow, a new exhibition opens at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, curated by the fashion designer and modern art enthusiast.
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The first in a new series of exhibitions at the gallery to be curated by key figures from creative fields outside the visual arts, Anderson’s show brings together a personal selection of more than 100 objects from across art, fashion, ceramics and design in a series of unusual and thought-provoking groupings.
Pieces by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Lynn Chadwick, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Dorothea Tanning are paired with garments by designers such as Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Helmut Lang, Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood and, of course, pieces by Jonathan Anderson himself, encouraging the viewer to find parallels between these creations, which all centre on the human form.
This is an intimate, domestic exhibition that takes us on a journey through major influences on Anderson’s career. This is not inaccessible or intimidating art made even more distant behind glass; in this inviting show space, designed by 6a architects (and incorporating fabric from the designer’s archive), you can meander around a variety of works and even try on some of Anderson’s creations. Undoubtedly the most engaging – and Instagrammable – space is the central room, where vibrant, oversized jumpers hang from the ceiling. “In the middle room you’ll see ‘28 Jumpers’. I wanted something in it that people could get involved with. I wanted someone as young as 3 or 4 to engage with colour, or emotion, or be able to put a jumper over the top of them. It came from this idea that you could become a human sculpture in that way,” Anderson explained to Refinery29 at a preview.
Photo: Lewis Ronald
Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield
Anderson’s own designs and those by some of his heroes are also brought to life in a series of images, shot by his long-time collaborator Jamie Hawkesworth. The fashion photographer came up to Wakefield and photographed 123 children from local schools wearing pieces from this exhibition, for portraits that are at once captivating, charming, evocative and comic.
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This involvement with the local community encapsulates Anderson's mission with this exhibition – to make fashion more democratic. He challenges the way we think about art and fashion by bringing together many of the biggest names in 20th and 21st century art and design, and drawing parallels in their exploration of the human form.
The day before the exhibition opens to the public, as the finishing touches were being added, we visited Jonathan Anderson to discuss curation, collaboration and creativity.
Through working on this exhibition, did it make you see fashion and art and the way they converge in a different way?
I’ve always quite publicly had an issue with fashion as art. I think for me it was a difficult thing to understand. By going through all the different works, for example Henry Moore’s reclining figure, or Barbara Hepworth, for me it was like in their period, how rebellious that must have been and how unusual to the eye. Through doing this process it’s kind of been a chain reaction. Working with 6a, Andrew [Bonacina, the Hepworth's Chief Curator] and on the book, you start to have this running dialogue, where one room leads into another. You start to see things in Vivienne Westwood that might look good with something else, or you see the ways in which the body has been tackled, either in a triangular form or linear form or lumps and bumps or classicism. Through this you start to see patterns in different periods. It’s not going to be an education in fashion. It’s not an education in sculpture. It’s about emotion. It’s about being confronted by two things. I like this idea that when you see two things opposing it is left to your own imagination. I’m not here to tell you that I’m the greatest curator or the greatest fashion designer. It is just a personal voyage. I wanted for people to come up to one of the best museums in the country and experience something, which was really putting a whole load of things into a room that don’t technically work together. However, in that moment they do. That’s what I’ve found really enjoyable about this process. I think I’ve now realised, within fashion, I do think it is one of the most powerful art forms there is. We’re just all so used to it because it’s so mass-produced.
You split your time between London and Paris, run two separate brands and started work on this show a year and a half ago. Where and how did it fit in with your busy schedule?
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A lot of coffee! I don’t know. My team probably hate me for it but I feel like everything’s possible. You just have to put your mind to it. I’ve done two shows and this. I haven’t been off since January but for me this is such a compelling project to do as it’s not about me, it’s about so many different aspects. Fashion has to be cultural. I’m determined, over the lifetime that I do this job… I don’t believe in luxury and elitism. I believe it is about embracing culture. If we don’t do it, we will disenfranchise people and fashion will become quite isolated in that way.
Were you intimidated by the prospect of publicly entering the art world, which can be quite snobbish?
It is quite scary but doing fashion you grow a very hard skin, and you have to remember really not to care, and if you do things for the right reason then you’re fine. I’m doing this because I care. I love modern British art. My grandfather extensively collected ceramics and art and it’s something that I’ve been brought up with, something that I religiously study. It’s a personal project. That’s why I wanted to make sure that people could really get engaged with it. When I first announced it, someone asked, "Why aren’t you doing it in London?" I think politically, where we are right now, it’s very important that we get out of London and enjoy the British countryside. I encourage people to come up here, it’s a beautiful part of the world and some of the best sculpture in Britain is here.
There is the idea that London is the pinnacle of creativity in the UK. This will hopefully encourage a new audience, who are perhaps accessing it from a fashion perspective, to come up here and discover art…
When I was younger, I would go to exhibitions with my grandfather and when I moved to London I remember going to see the Anna Piaggi show and that made me excited about fashion. Thank god she did that show. If I could change one person who could be excited about what I do, or what Dorothea Tanning did, or what Rei Kawakubo does – how amazing. It’s about sharing. It’s not about ownership.
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Photo: Lewis Ronald
Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield
About 70% of the fashion in the show comes from your own personal collection. How did you choose the rest of the pieces and other brands to include?
I think I didn’t want too much fashion. There are certain moments in fashion that are snapshots. There are obviously thousands of things that I like but I saw Rick Owens’ show and I was like, "Rick" – and I’d never spoken to him before – "I’d really like that piece in the show, that’s now, that’s current".
Then you have Dior’s 1951 dress which I paid homage to in a pre-collection once and I remember recreating it without seeing it. It’s completely different to what I did, not seeing it. Or for example Helmut Lang, who’s one of the greatest modernists in fashion and I think it’s so exciting to have those harnesses in Wakefield with Giacometti in a room, with Louise Bourgeois, who he collaborated with. How exciting that that can all co-exist in a space. I never overthought the pieces, I just went through the archive. It’s not to tell the history of J.W.Anderson at all but it’s to show influences.
Is there a particular space or moment in the show that you’re most excited about?
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I love the Yves Saint Laurent Lalanne corset dress and Maria Bartuszová sculpture. Two women confiding in each other in one space. I like the idea that she dissolves into the darkness and you only see [the gold waist of the dress].
Photo: Lewis Ronald
Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield
You mentioned your grandfather was a big influence on your love of modern art. Is there a particular event which really triggered your passion?
When I first moved to London I became obsessed by this moment where fashion, design, furniture, art all co-existed and then suddenly we decided to go into categories and now there is, in a weird way, a very classic approach to this show. At the same time, I think it’s a very different approach to fashion in this context. Sometimes I find fashion exhibitions incredibly boring because it always looks like a window display, whereas I want people to look at things without the veneer, to see clothing as we wear clothing.
It feels like luxury fashion and art are really colliding this year in a way that the public can access, too. First with Burberry’s collaboration with Henry Moore, now your exhibition and, in May, with the Met’s Rei Kawakubo show. Do you agree?
Since I joined Loewe it really opened up my eyes. We set up a foundation there, for the past three and a half years I’ve been doing exhibitions in Miami and in our stores with all different artists. It’s a really important moment where we need to have physicality as much as we need digital. We need physicality.
How do you think people will react to the array of different artists and designers brought together?
We have contacted a lot of big private collectors, different brands like Dior and each of these things have been found right up until the minute of the show. It’s just these tiny moments. There will be things you’ll love. Things you’ll hate. Things you’ll think, "Why am I doing this". It’s a personal thing. It’s a bit of a crusade. For me, I’m addicted to collaborating with people. It’s probably been the most eye-opening experience to work with some of the most incredible pieces that exist in the world. I want this to appeal from the very young to the very old. There might be one thing you like in the show and if you like one thing, then we’ve all done a very good job.
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