On Sunday, as the 2012 Whitney Biennial entered its closing week, the museum’s fourth floor performance space transformed into a catwalk for artist K8 Hardy’s Untitled Runway Show.
Tropes of the fashion industry have long underwritten Hardy’s art. Since arriving in New York eleven years ago from Ft. Worth, Texas, she’s worked as a stylist and published FashionFashion, a Xeroxed zine in which she models satirically provocative, auto-fetishized looks. Her photographs of shoe concepts, included in the biennial, riff on merchandizing and other languages of editorials and advertisements. These divergent projects have made her into a cult figure, and this weekend’s show was a high-production culmination of some of her most fun, repellant and tragic visions.
Once guests were corralled into their places, the house lights flared and the spectacle began. The indispensable DJ Venus X mixed archival gay pride parade broadcasts and YouTube-sourced beauty tutorials with slowed down reggaeton, techno and southern rap beats. As the first girl came out, art world front-rowers played their parts and scribbled in their notepads. The choreography called for odd walks: backwards, leaden, or otherwise marked by cadences of discontent. At the end of the runway each model turned to ascend its elevated extension: a menacing sculpture made by Oscar Tuazon, for which he cannibalized segments of his wood and iron maze installed in the lobby gallery, and reconstituted them here as a bridge flanked by two flights of stairs.
The lifeless glaze of the make-up—orange, red and blue on the face, lips and eyes—seemed lifted from cheap mannequins, but the hair by Duffy may have stolen the show: huge stork’s nests coated in paint and chemical detritus, recalling Amy Winehouse and hyperbolic online memes like “Helicopter Hair.” The outfits had a thrift store sensibility in keeping with Hardy’s aesthetic. Some were crude juxtapositions of culturally antithetical apparels sutured together, like a matronly slip with a thuggish shirt. “There’s also kind of a paint story happening here,” Hardy mentioned before the show. Indeed, inky, dripped stains foreshadowed a great, big, phallic paintbrush cartoonishly affixed to the final look (a canvas sack). One of the most memorable ensembles was a spliced together pile of bras. “I burned all those bras, or tried to. We were torching some that were flame retardant and they just gassed.”
Asked whether this was the birth of the house of Hardy or its fall, she conceded, “I'm going to re-stage this show at the Dallas Contemporary in October, but I have no desire to create another one. Maybe in ten years. Not because I didn't totally enjoy making this show, it's just not my primary form of working.” After the last model left the stage, the designer came out in a disheveled, red-tie, red-blooded man look. “The inspiration was Wall Street banker. I didn’t want to compete with the show or be incorporated.”
Photos: © Paula Court. K8 Hardy, May 20th, 2012 at 2012 Whitney Biennial.