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Fashions is a twelve and a half minute sequence of film showing one hundred outfits displayed on a female model. Ray improvised the clothes from odd remnants from a local fabric store, wrapping, taping and tying the fabric in place on the model. She stands on circular revolving platform on a wooden floor next to a white wall. After each complete revolution, the film cuts abruptly to the next outfit. The model is the artist Frances Stark (born 1967), who was assisting Ray in his Los Angles studio at the time. She has the appearance of an ordinary woman rather than a model and this remains unchanged by the various outfits. These range from the realistic and wearable to the sculptural, inviting a comparison between the disciplines of art and fashion design. Living models parade on catwalks; one would normally expect to see a static mannequin standing on a revolving platform. The contrast between the real and the ideal, a constant in Ray’s work, is illustrated in this film.
Clothing and fashion have featured in Ray’s work since the early 1970s. In All My Clothes 1973 (Saatchi Collection, London), the artist appears in sixteen photographs wearing all the clothes in his wardrobe, covering winter to summer wear. In each photograph he stands in the same position, looking forward with his arms hanging by his sides, in front of the same white wall. The work has the appearance of an inventory. It reveals little about its subject who remains deadpan, simply a body to carry the clothes. Ray returned to the relationships between portraiture, clothing, sculpture and the body in the early 1990s, using the sanitised realism of department store mannequins. Self-Portrait 1990 (Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach) is an ordinary store mannequin subtly altered by replacing its head with one modified as a generalised likeness to the artist. It is dressed in the type of casual sporty clothes favoured by Ray and presents a literal facsimile of the artist while remaining wholly devoid of life. Three related sculptures produced in 1992, each titled Fall ‘91(various collections), are female mannequins enlarged by 30%, dressed in smart suits from the autumn 1991 fashion collections. These works critique the stereotypes and values of contemporary society represented by the generalized and idealized mannequins.
For Ray, ‘sculpture is a verb’ (Phillips p.98). His approach to sculpture in the 1970s and 80s was frequently through process and action. In many works the artist’s body was necessary to animate the sculptures through a kind of performance. Fashions evolved from Ray’s ongoing interest in contained space. He sees the film as directly related to the preceding work, Puzzle Bottle 1996 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), which was triggered by a photograph of the famous sculpture, Early One Morning 1962 (Tate T00805), by Sir Anthony Caro (born 1924), viewed through a cider bottle on Ray’s bookshelf. Thinking about real and abstract space, Ray made a miniature self-portrait enclosed in a bottle. He then progressed to the spatial potential of 16mm film. He has commented: ‘my film Fashions uses the obsolete and abandoned space of 16mm film ... [it] use[s] the figure as a structure to build a space that becomes a kind of abstract space ... the turning girl with the changing clothes in Fashions makes a sculpture that is drawn in time.’(Quoted in Bussmann, p.333.)
The artist has specified that Fashions should be displayed in a room ideally eighteen by twenty-four feet, with the projector on a white plinth approximately two thirds distance from the wall it is being projected on. The work is both a film and a sculptural installation and whirring sound of the projector is an important accompaniment. The film was produced in an edition of four plus a single artist’s proof. Tate’s copy is the fourth in the edition.
Lisa Phillips and Paul Schimmel, Charles Ray, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1998, pp.86 and 89, reproduced p.46 in colour
Neal Benezra, Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990s, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, pp.84-5
Klaus Bussmann, Kasper König, Forain Matzner, Sculpture. Projects in Münster 1997, exhibition catalogue, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Munich 1997, pp.332-5