Photos by Tiffany Bri
September 3, Bellevue Arts Museum held a Preview Party for the opening of their most recent exhibit, Counter-Couture: Fashioning Identity in the American Counterculture. The exhibit comprises work from artists and designers of the 60s and 70s and explores that counterculture through its clothing.
Guest curator and local clothier Michael Cepress led the press tour wearing burgundy pants and a patterned vest, finished with an Alex & Lee necklace. He spoke passionately on his research and how his love for this time period was rooted in the ways that these artists created physical representations of their identity. Contemporary marketing tends to tell the audience precisely what their identity should be, based on demographics but not deviating much from a specific aesthetic. The sexual and fashion revolutions of the 60s and 70s offered an unprecedented range of styles, a burst of creativity and optimism amid social unrest and Cold War paranoia. The colors and textures look straight out of a psychedelic trip.
To cohesively capture this creative burst, the exhibit is divided into four themes that flow from one to the next: Funk & Flash, Couture, Performance and Transcendence. Artists represented include Leslie Correll, Cass Elliot, Gretchen Fetchen, Fayette Hauser, Birgitta Bjerke, Kaisik Wong and Alex & Lee, among others. The final section, Transcendence, focuses on examples of art and fashion that became symbols of otherworldly ideas, and in discussing this, Cepress, touched on something that really stuck with me: The culture and practice of dismissing fashion has become a sort of self-deprivation, and a lot of Seattle has fallen into that. The era of Counter-Couture marked a time when the things that you put on your back meant much more than how warm they kept you. The Transcendence theme included the story of the local Love family, which was started by Love Israel and lived atop Queen Anne. Two of their spiritual garbs were on display. The lighting change in this section of the exhibit only further added to the somber mood and biblical allusiveness.
At the VIP Preview Party in the evening, guests had embraced the theme and gone all out in 60s and 70s attire, ranging from fringe everything to go-go boots. Seattle’s hometown department store was part of the action, showing current retro-inspired pieces from Miu Miu, Gucci and others on live models, styled variously—big 60s hair, Woodstock braids. Bellevue Nordstrom Store Manager Steve Wilkos was present to inform guests about these looks. VS Photographer Tiffany Bri and I noted how the artists were often the easiest to pick out, as they seemed to all be human manifestations of their own work—almost as if their artwork had created them.
Several artists with work in Counter-Couture were in attendance. Artist Fayette Hauser looked as vibrant as ever in an array of colors, a fantastic hair piece, iconic bangles all the way up her arm and colorful makeup. Hauser blushed as I gushed over her pieces on display, commenting on her amazing and imaginative textures and color combinations. She is also a marvelous storyteller, and we were rapt by tales of the Beats and Punk. She joked with me about certain carousals with certain rockstars and we bonded over the spiritual experience of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.
I was pleased to also meet Scandinavian artist Birgitta Bjerke, whom Cepress had described during our tour as the crochet connoisseur who “always had a ball of yarn” in her bag when she was a young artist. I asked her about a large piece of hers on display next to a photo of her wearing it. How long did it take to make? She calmly replied “two years” as she stared lovingly at the piece. “I was a young, poor artist. Whenever I needed more yarn, I had to work for a while so I could afford a new roll.” Such devotion yielded a truly extraordinary piece unlike any other.
Many local artists and arts advocates were seen among the crowd, including Rachel Gallaher, editor at GRAY magazine, and Paul Kuniholm Pauper, wearing his iconic suit and hat ensemble. Anna Skibska was spotted clinking glasses with fellow guests, along with Pam Rembold, Executive Director of the Kirkland Arts Center, where Skibska’s show of jewelry, sculpture and photocollage, Vanitas Vanitatum, is on display auntil mid-October. Local artist Liz Tran loves color (as evident in her layered, splashy work), and looked inspired by the colorful crowd. Everyone put effort into meeting the theme for the evening, and it made one wish these parties were always so vibrant and expressive. Guests sipped and swayed to the beats of DJ El Toro of KEXP. In the Court of Light Sculpture Garden, servers offered chocolate and champagne to accompany the gorgeous sunset. With Bellevue Fashion Week coming later this month, it felt like just the beginning of a very stylish September.
Counter-Couture: Fashioning Identity in the American Counterculture is on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum through January 10, 2016. Check out photos of the exhibit and the party below, by Tiffany Bri.