Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art is the first global survey dedicated to the use of clothing as a medium of visual art. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City through August 14, 2022, this critically acclaimed exhibition assembles more than 60 works from 35 international artists — including Nick Cave, Kent Monkman, Louise Bourgeois, and Mary Sibande — who create garments, sculpture, installation, and performance art that transform dress into a critical tool. Adopted globally as an artistic strategy, garmenting uses the language of fashion to challenge traditional divisions of form and function, cast a critical eye on the construction of gender, advance political activism, and address cultural differences.

Garmenting emerged during the 1960s and 1970s. Its rise is linked to performance art, as garments used in installations often double as costumes in live and video-based performances. The practice came to increased prominence during the 1990s, its flourishing paralleling the emerging effects of globalization. With its emphasis on craft and the unique object, garmenting has been adopted globally by artists seeking ways to respond to the 21st-century blurring of socioeconomic boundaries, cultures, and identities. While some of the works on view celebrate the hybridization of cultures, others protest the fading of regional and ethnic traditions and communities — and many do both simultaneously. No matter their perspective, all these artists’s practices were shaped by transnational creative — and commercial — exchange.

Installation view of Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York (March 12 to August 14, 2022) (photo by Jenna Bascom)

Garmenting is organized around five interrelated themes. “Functionality” showcases works that blur the line between fashion, which traditionally has a practical function, and art, which traditionally does not. “Cultural Difference” centers on works that explore the relationship between dress and cultural, racial, and ethnic identities. “Gender” explores how gender and sexuality are performed through dress. “Activism” examines how artists use garments to call attention to how political violence affects individual bodies. “Performance” features artists who engage critically with costume through live and video-based performance. Live performances taking place during the exhibition include Enoch Cheng: Handle with Care on June 9 and jaamil olawale kosoko: Black Body Amnesia on July 7.

Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art is guest curated by Alexandra Schwartz, a New York-based art historian, curator, and adjunct professor in the School of Graduate Studies at SUNY | Fashion Institute of Technology.

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An installation of Zoe Buckman’s embroidered vintage lingerie (photo by Jenna Bascom)
jaamil olawale kosoko, “Chameleon (a visual album)” (2020), video (photo by Jenna Bascom)