Thursday, May 9, 2019

Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper, Part 1

"Pallus" after Botticelli's "Pallas and the Centaur" 
and "Flora" after Botticelli's "Primavera" 
"Papiers a la Mode is not about pastiche. It is a merry and shameless sham, trompe l'oeil, and nothing else." So declared artist Isabelle de Borchgrave in 1998 about her inaugural exhibit. And perhaps de Borchgrave's work is a sham of sorts. Certainly, it's nearly impossible to believe the elaborate clothing in the exhibit is made of paper. And yet every single piece is, from the tiniest pearl to the most delicate lace to the ever-so-uncomfortable looking shoes.

De Borchgrave knew from a young age that she wanted to be an artist. When she was only 18, she was already teaching art classes to kids and turning silk dresses into works of art by painting them with one-of-a-kind designs. But her passion was truly ignited when she visited the Met's Costume Institute in 1994 with friend--and costume designer--Rita Brown. The two were so taken with the exhibit that they decided on the spot to create works of their own recreating clothing from across the ages. The rest is history.


Fun fact: The triangular shaped piece in dresses
from this era is called the stomacher. 
The two women collaborated to create the exhibit Papiers a la Mode. The show was a romp through 300 years of fashion history, from the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth I to the designs of Coco Chanel. De Borchgrave's subsequent exhibits celebrated the designs of Mariano Fortuny and 19th c. Venice, the Splendors (and excesses) of the Medicis, and Les Ballet Russes. Fashioning Art through Paper at Artis-Naples included 80 of de Borchgrave's works from across these exhibits. It was glorious.

The exhibit yielded so much to talk about that the docent tour lasted a full 90 minutes. Here are a few of the tidbits we learned:

--De Borchgrave has a studio in Brussels where she works with a team of 10 artists to create her sculptures.

--The "fabrics" are created through a combination of free hand painting and stenciling.

--Each sculpture takes approximately a month to come into existence.

Delphos Gown with Shawl inspired by Fortuny
--De Borchgrave uses four types of paper in her work. The first is sappi, a South African paper that arrives in a roll that would be 2 1/2 miles long if it were unfurled. Then there's kraft paper, a heavier material suitable for creating pieces like shoes. Lens paper (yes, a sister of the type you use to clean your glasses) is used for creating faux lace. And then the biggest surprise -- the white paper that is typically used to cradle Belgian chocolates is utilized for, well, something exquisite. 

--The sculptures in the Fashioning Art from Paper exhibit were delivered to Artis-Naples in crates via two trucks.  Two of de Borchgraves' assistants accompanied the delivery from its previous showing in Pittsburgh. (I learned at a talk at the Ringling that art couriers physically stay with the art at all times. When art is traveling by truck, the only stops along the way are to eat and gas up. It's not nearly as glamorous a job as it sounds.)

When the sculptures arrived, the assistants repaired any damage that occurred along the way. They also steam ironed the "fabric" of each piece to perk it up.

--The exhibit featuring replicas of the designs of Mariano Fortuny premiered at a show in the Fortuny Palazzo in Venice. Fortuny's Delphos gowns were inspired by Greek columns. The pleating is so unique that Fortuny was awarded a patent on it.  In the original of the gown shown here, the beads were made from Murano glass.

"Teapot" dress  -- likely used only for introductions in court
since dancing, sitting down or eating would be impossible
--Each sculpture recreates a dress or other piece of clothing that actually existed. The placards for most sculptures give the history and a photograph of the original garment. In some cases the garment still exists, such as the ridiculously impractical teapot dress shown here. (The original is at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where it was pieced together after being found in 15 separate parts.)

In other cases, de Borchgrave works from paintings. The dresses shown in the first picture in this post were inspired by Botticelli's "Primavera" and "Pallus and the Centaur," respectively. (Click on the names of the paintings to see them.)  These dresses were part of the Spectacle of Medici exhibit. They are positioned together because the Medicis displayed these two paintings in the same room in one of their many palaces.

Stay tuned for more from this exhibit, including a sampling of the fabulous sculptures recreating clothing from Les Ballet Russes.


1 comment:

  1. Nanette -- This exhibit is so wonderful! I am so relieved it is closed because I would be forced to hop on a plane to go see it. Paper is my life's passion. I am currently being kept out of one room in my apt. because of it. Thank you for introducing me to de Borchgrave's work. I'm now on the lookout!

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