Don’t ever trust your possessions with Ai Weiwei. When fashion magazine V sent over a selection of garments by 14 emerging designers carried by Dover Street Market, Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo’s concept store, to the dissident artist with the instructions to shoot them in any manner he wished, he treated them the way he treated 10 Neolithic vases in his 2006/2008 Colored Vases series. Ai splashed paint all over them, and — depending on how you look at it — either destroyed the hard work of these burgeoning designers, or created new pieces of art.
“Pouring a color on an outfit creates creates a new condition for the design,” said Ai in an interview with V. “It creates a midpoint between two conflicting ideas. Gravity and the shape of the clothes combine to create a unique moment. Using these cultural products as ready-mades celebrates and reinterprets the intention of creativity. I think this act shows my respect toward their creativity.” Sure.
This wasn’t the first time that a fashion magazine has given an artist the creative reigns behind a fashion editorial, but the artists usually leave the clothes alone. Vogue handed over clothing and accessories by Givenchy, Balenciaga, and Alexander Wang covered in lively prints to Rachel Perry Welty for their December 2011 issue. She had the prints digitally printed onto backdrops that she camouflaged herself in while wearing the garments. Harper’s Bazaar let Jeff Koons take control of the camera for its September 2011 issue. He merely photographed models in designer clothing standing next to his sculptures. For one of its January 2013 art issue covers, W commissioned Mickalene Thomas to add her touch to it. She put Jessica Chastain in 1970s hair and makeup and had her do an odalisque pose in one of her splashy environments, but she left the Versace gown alone.
Ai decided to forgo the use of models, instead enlisting people in his circle to pose in the garments by designers 1205, Craig Green, Ganryu, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Hood by Air, Jacquemus, KTZ, Lee Roach, Melitta Baumeister, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Pheobe English, Proper Gang, Shaun Samson, and Sibling. He proceeded to pour paint on each of them. “For the last ten years, these 14 colors have existed in our studio color chart for the production of Colored Vases,” said Ai in the V interview. “It’s a complete coincidence that we had these 14 colors for exactly 14 outfits.” One ornate white oversized blouse by KTZ got doused in a shade of chalky lime green, while a structured white jacket and skirt by Jacquemus had red poured all over it.
The results left some of the designers perplexed. “I don’t know if it’s sad or positive that he decided to do the project this way,” Los Angeles–based designer Shaun Samson, who had his plaid jacket and shorts covered in mauve paint, told the Washington Post, “But the outcome is beautiful.”
Whatever the intent is, Ai certainly knows how to make a publicity splash. The garments will go on display at Dover Street Market New York this Sunday and the issue of V debuts November 13.