Yohji Yamamoto (preview)

Preview of Yohji Yamamoto at the Design Museum Holon, Israel
July 5 – October 20, 2012

The pioneering Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto has had a number of memorable exhibitions in the past decade. I braved a snowy day in Antwerp to review Dream Shop, the third instalment of a trilogy of European exhibitions, held at the MODE Museum for Selvedge in 2006. The exhibition tackled what was seen as three “taboos” of fashion curation: low lighting, no-touch rules and the predicament that viewers often look on to objects that are actually designed for us to inhabit and look out from. Here Yamamoto generously invited viewers to don selected garments on display, breaking down for a rare moment the barrier between viewer and owner. And the previous year, Yohji Yamamoto: Juste des Vetements? at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris took another approach and brought the designer’s studio to life as a way to expose his creative process. This exhibition promises yet another tactic: the opportunity to consider fashion curation in response to the striking architecture of Ron Arad’s building.

Compared to Britain, the climate of Israel is idyllic. Instead of our overcast skies, the intensity of sunlight in the region is often piercing. This has an effect on how all materials are perceived – basically everything benefits from a certain visual intensity that Britain’s cloudy lowlight often subdues. Plans for this exhibition propose a contemplative atmosphere for the light filled 500 square meter upper gallery, a slow down to see-what-you-may-see type of thinking. The museum’s smaller lower level is planned as a counterpoint to this sense of contemplation and aims to capture the pace and energy that fashion moves at today. The split seems appropriate for a designer whose identity rests on what you could call the cerebral end of fashion, but has also works in partnership with the likes of the brand savvy sportswear company adidas.

The venue for this exhibition, the Design Museum Holon, exists thanks to similar principles that brought the Guggenheim museum to Balboa, Spain in 1997: something akin to a “build it and they will come” injection of culture. The existence of the Design Museum Holon, inaugurated in March 2010 after four years of construction, is part of a large-scale urban regeneration programme for the area with aims to achieve much the same outcome. To be fair, those in the know have often commented on the strength of Israeli design both within the country and abroad. My recent visits as a Guest Critic at the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem have confirmed the vibrancy and skill of emerging designers and a healthy presence of independent design shops. While the Israelis I spoke to largely resisted my enthusiasm and bemoaned the state of independent design within the country, I think the key is that in comparison to the numbing familiarity of the British high street, independent design looks healthy here.

Born in Tel Aviv, Arad has been London based since 1973 when he came to Britain to study architecture. His reputation was established in the early 1980s as a product designer and maker. Traces of this education are present in the building he has created here. Comprised of a stack of five giant steel bands that bend and settle in forms reminiscent of the flexibility of cloth or leather, this is a building that in another life and scale could have been a bag – or a hat. The building’s exterior colour too belies the hardness of uninspired architecture and Israel’s intense sunlight allows it to cast dramatic shadows akin to one of Royal Ascot’s more daring hats on Ladies’ Day, rather than the sensible stuff of bricks and mortar.

This exhibition will coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Yamamoto’s company Y’s, which was launched in 1972. Yamamoto explains, “After exhibiting in London, Florence and Paris, it is a natural flow for me to organise an exhibition in Israel this time – a country very rich in culture. In an era where we only receive prepared information, as a thinker, I want to see Israel with my own eyes and feel it through my skin to get to know it well.” A number of events have also been planned: Parallel Nippon, an exhibition of Japanese architecture, will be on display in one of the museum’s satellite galleries come September and October sees Holon Fashion week wrap up the Yamamoto exhibition with Israeli and international designers participating in the second year of the event. Hardly a venue on our doorstep, but well worth the time if you are in the region.

Selvedge Magazine (Sept. 2012: 89)