New Exhibition at 80 WSE Galleries Explores Denim in Cultural Imagination

What began as fabric for work clothes has become, over the past few decades, a material for fashion, both ready-to-wear and couture variations. DENIM, a new art exhibition at 80 WSE Galleries curated by David Rimanelli, visiting assistant professor of art history at NYU Steinhardt, explores the multiple connotations of this most versatile and enduring fabrics.

Denim’s cult status as a rebel uniform emerged in the public mind largely through classic cinema – Marlon Brando’s Wild One, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits, and now those at various levels of stardom, frequently work the downbeat glamour of the denim worker/outsider association.

In the DENIM exhibition, these film references mix with denim’s high-art associations, which have become ingrained through the ’60s image of the “artist-worker,” exemplified by Robert Morris, or Carl Andre in the overalls he dons every day. But the figure who brings this juxtaposition full circle is Andy Warhol, who is represented in the show by his album design for The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, which brought the sensibility of the artist’s silk screens of Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley to the mass marketplace.

Other work in the exhibition includes portraits of early gang members by photographer Karlheinz Weinberger; self-portrait of artists (and sisters) Hanna and Klara Liden, outfitted in denim Daisy Dukes (pictured left; courtesy of the artist Jack Pierson); images of the criminal mug shots that Warhol used for his Philip Johnson-commissioned (and never actually displayed) project for the 1964 NY World’s Fair by Tom Burr; and two sculptures by Rob Pruitt, meant to function as actual benches: denim jeans filled out with concrete and twisted into various configurations.

To read the full press release, and for a gallery of images from the exhibition, click here.

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