I am ashamed to admit that I have spent the last year coasting down Main Street, noting the building that is the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and having formed a closed minded opinion about what a craft center would possibly put on display, never went inside until last week. All this changed when I learned of The Paper Runway exhibit and I found myself counting down the days until it opened. Peers and friends of Barnett Newman, one of the major figures in abstract expressionism, used to joke that he would attend the “opening of an envelope” much the same way my friends joke that I jump at the opportunity to attend anything resembling a fashion show.
D-Day finally comes and I find myself outside of the center; I follow the suit of the art patrons in front of me and park the Cooper in a no parking zone since I pretend my car is immune to towing. I attempt to gracefully exit said car in my new gauzy chiffon, one shoulder dress that is two sizes too big. The remedy for which is the most magical tool known to man, a safety pin.
Naturally, the safety pin falls off immediately, never to be seen again, and I am left standing in the street looking as though I am attempting to play dress up in my mother’s clothing. Some double sided tape and a weird side knot later, I look more like a real person and make my entrance.
The smorgasbord of beautiful things is too much to take in on an empty stomach so I make a beeline for the impromptu bar tucked too far back to opt for a glass of bubbly. The trick is to request without using the actual word, champagne since champagne it is not. You must be a purist above all else. Walking back through the throng of persons milling about in every corner of the center, armed with my libation I can now better appreciate the sights.
The resident artists of the center created special versions of their works that celebrate and represent the types of things they have worked on during their residency and fare displaying them on human models. The result initially appears as a bevy of statuesque models traipsing around wearing odd confections of fabrics and metals and cardboard and artificial plant life. Upon closer inspection and through the discovery of each artist’s individual studio you are able to observe exactly how each artist has interpreted their own work on such a different scale.
Elaine Bradford, known for her work in crochet, has used her model to depict a multi colored costume with various appendages, an antler, and artificial flowers. Gabriel Craig & Amy Weiks share a background in metalsmithing and used their model to mimic Puffy Queen: Animal Tamer, 2009. It is a brooch made from sterling silver, shibuichi, brass, 14k gold, stainless steel, found and altered chain and coins. The cardboard version found on the model reminds me of little paper clothes for little paper dolls that were an obsession a generation ago.
We make our way through the double doors of the formal gallery space which houses The Paper Runway exhibition and I am elated and saddened at the same time. The bittersweet symphony of seeing two of your passions, art and fashion, married is torturous when you are not allowed to touch anything much less try it on!
“You are the Bjork of Houston,” my friend comments at my wide eyed reception to the beautiful costumes constructed of paper materials hailing from every corner of the world. “You would wear every piece of clothing here except that suit.”
He was so right. The suit in question was an incredible piece created by Rebecca Siemering, from lottery tickets, dental floss, and a cloth suit. The given title, A Refined Suit forces the viewer to ask oneself questions about the artist’s message in regards to clothing making the man, lottery tickets possibly symbolizing the nouveau riche, etc.
Susan Cutts’ Fairy Tale Dress is an ethereal skirt attached to a tight bodice in a soft pale pink. The artist used handmade gampi paper which is similar to rice paper but much finer and more rare. The dress floats down from the ceiling like a fairy godmother summoned it with her magic wand. Shoes could be seen that were so dainty and delicate that they could only have been made for that perfect nonexistent child that sits very still. There were full length paper gowns so intricately designed or adorned with embellishments that they looked as though they belonged on the runways of Oscar de la Renta or Alexander McQueen.
One of the highlights for me was a dress in different hues of blue that looked like it had been discarded by a mermaid on her way to become a land creature a la Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Jennifer Davies and Nancy Eisenfeld’s Dancing with the Stars, created using plastic netting, kozo pulp, ribbon, tulle, thread seemed to be inspired by an actual coral reef or some other magical ocean creation.
It was difficult to bid goodbye to the dresses and exit back into the cruel world where people don’t wander around wearing fairy tale dresses.