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Pop Up Common Room: The Vulgar – Fashion Redefined

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Published date 05 December 2016
Text by Gary Scott, MA Art and Science, Central Saint Martins

Image of a manequin with a large crucafix around its neck and a fur collar

Fashion is an area that has held a special fascination for me, ever since I first saw Alexander McQueen’s work and the theme of ‘the vulgar’ immediately drew my interest – my sculptures have been described as sexy, playful and macabre so you can see the attraction…

This exhibition was conceived by UAL’s very own Judith Clark (Professor of Fashion and Museology at LCF and Course Leader for MA Fashion Curation) in conjunction with psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. The show has generated a lot of buzz within the industry so being able to attend this Postgraduate Pop Up Common Room event was a real treat.

The word vulgar has become associated with violence and divisiveness and the curators wanted to address this and the language around the term.  From a starting point of ‘commonplace or everyday’ around the time of the Renaissance, it’s come to stand for excess, extravagance and commercialism to sexualisation and the kitsch and much else besides.

3 mannequins sport 3 dresses inspired by Mondrian

The curators have taken this 500 hundred year period and framed the exhibition around 20 sections, the starting point for each being a well-crafted, thought provoking definition by Adam Phillips.  In total they have put together over 120 exhibits, drawn from major collections around the globe – from an impressive list of the great and the good of the fashion world, from Christian Dior to Vivienne Westwood and beyond, and including numerous especially commissioned pieces.

A wire shopping basket holds a rolled Chanel towelThe gorgeous space of the Barbican Centre’s Art Gallery was a welcome sight after picking my way through the brutalist architecture of the Barbican Complex (like it or loath it).  The Gallery is large and inspiring and has at its heart a wonderful double height atrium, despite being on the third floor.

We were met by Camilla Brueton, from UAL’s Postgraduate Community and then guided through the collections by the engaging and knowledgeable Sinéad McCarthy, Associate Curator at the Barbican.  We were entranced by this marvelous celebration of ‘the vulgar’, what it is to be vulgar and how this has morphed over time.

Manequin wears a headress made of raven feathers

The exhibition is an eye watering visual feast and it seems the curators have left no stone unturned, no parallel unexamined in their investigations.  Underpinning this, I was really impressed by their attention to detail and deep consideration of viewers perceptions, as evidenced in the commissioned pieces, the use of lighting, colours, props, obscurity, reflection and so on.  There is serious depth to this tour de force and I shall certainly be back before its World Tour moves on.

INstallation shot from the VUlgar exhibition at the Barbican

Installation Images courtesy of the Barbican Centre


Further information:

The Vulgar – Fashion redefined is on at the Barbican until 5 February 2017

Exclusive to UAL’s Postgraduate Community, Pop Up Common Room events assist in the community’s aims for building platforms for skill sharing, networking, collaboration and investigating new communities of practice.

Author: Gary Scott is a current postgraduate student studying on the MA Art and Science course at Central Saint Martins.

Gary Scott’s website