About this artwork
Since the early 1970s, Los Angeles–based artist Charles Ray has produced sculptural works that disorient viewers and command space in unusual ways, exploring its aesthetic and psychological implications. Influenced in part by the simplicity, emotional blankness, and serial quality of Minimalism, Ray chooses subjects that may at first seem simple but, upon closer observation, reveal an ambitious combination of formalism and technical complexity. Viewers experience cognitive dissonance when encountering Ray’s works, which include life-size or larger than life-size mannequins and everyday objects. The artist’s hyperbolic presentation of the real, whether overexaggerated—or, as in Fashions, underexaggerated—turns the ordinary into the hallucinatory.
In this, his only completed film, Ray shows his friend and former student Frances Stark, now a noted artist, modeling one hundred original outfits while rotating slowly on a small platform that he controlled. Standing in contrapposto, Stark attempts to mimic both the stoic pose of a classical statue and the stiffness of a modern commercial mannequin. However, her clearly visible tattoo, uneven tan lines, and blinking eyes signal that she is real. Given Ray’s ongoing quest to at once objectify the living and animate the lifeless, Fashions is unusual in that humanity prevails.
As the title indicates, the focus is on the clothes, which Ray designed and then stapled or taped together. At the end of each rotation of the platform, the film cuts to a new ensemble, with absolutely no other action. As Ray described it, Stark becomes an “armature” on which to build his work, a means “to show off the labor.” Fashion is also used as a metaphor for identity; it can be interpreted differently depending on the beholder, fostering a false intimacy between the subject and viewer.
Fashions combines the ideas appearing in Ray’s previous work with mannequins; his photographic piece All My Clothes (1973); and the sculptural Tabletop (1989), in which a bowl, potted plant, and other objects rotate slowly on a table. According to the artist, Fashions also recalls his sculptural piece Puzzle Bottle (1973), for which he sealed a scaled-down figure of himself in a bottle, forming an abstract space that exists outside of time. A film installation that should be viewed from beginning to end, Fashions is meant to be shown with a whirring, flickering 16mm film projector, a nearly outmoded format reminiscent of the ones used in Ray’s high school. The size, rotational speed, and mechanical movement of the film reel echoes that of Stark’s platform, collapsing the difference between the projector and the image it displays.
- Currently Off View
- Contemporary Art
- Charles Ray
- United States
- 16mm color film, silent, projector, pedestal, and seating; 12:30 min. From an unnumbered edition of four
- Pauline Palmer Prize Fund