What does Marxist fashion look like? Austrian-born, New York-based conceptual artist Rainer Ganahl presented his own new designs last night under the title "Comme des Marxists." It was the first of two runway shows organized by Ganahl at New York's White Columns included in the performance art biennial Performa 13 (Nov. 1-Nov. 24). Featuring many items based on recent styles by Comme des Garçons but adorned with class warfare-style slogans, the catwalk show will be modified and re-performed this evening at 7:00. A weeklong exhibition of clothing and accessories, along with preparatory drawings, sketches and video documentation, will follow.
Ganahl enlisted amateur models, including American artist Peter Fend and Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist Karl Holmqvist, along with friends, children and unsuspecting attendees, to don his designs and walk a path marked in tape on the floor. In addition, some spectators were invited to participate in a charmingly clumsy Greek chorus that intoned scripted Marxist tropes like psalms throughout the performance. A soundtrack had been planned, but "the music fell through at the last minute," according to Matthew Higgs, White Columns director.
"There was no run-through; we had to improvise," Ganahl told A.i.A. after the show. "We had no money for models, or other professionals, so it was all crowd-sourced." Part of that contributing crowd, Holmqvist, best known for his poetry and text works, read his own writings from the runway, to the audience's delight. Confirming the impromptu nature of the performance, Ganahl repeatedly called out stage directions to the novice participants.
The clothing, mostly felt, ranged from sophisticated, boxy women's coats based on Kazimir Malevich's paintings of peasants to children's color-blocked jumpers with affixed felt text reading, "PRE-K: I GO U DON'T." Men wore chic vintage buffalo-plaid coats from Woolrich with plastic bag-lady-style plaid shopping bags cut up and sewn on as pockets, patches or attached skirts, handles dangling. Hermès scarves, embellished with abstracted fists, hammers and sickles, decorated the walls.
Ganahl told A.i.A. that the pieces in the show were "meticulously made" over the course of a year, utilizing the services of around 40 tailors and costing upwards of $10,000 for materials alone. The fastidious preparation of the garments and accessories was in contrast with the nonchalantly extemporaneous feeling of the performance. After about 30 minutes of loosely organized modeling, call-and-response, and political reading, Ganahl simply announced, "That's basically it." He proceeded to thank his collaborators and supporters, finally calling out to the conscripted participants: "Stay for pizza and beer!"
Tonight's performance, according to Ganahl, will feature Kenneth Goldsmith, the Museum of Modern Art's first poet laureate, along with some other surprises.