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Not in Fashion: Fashion and Photography in the 90s

Looking at 90s fashion photography, the exhibition features work by Jurgen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Corinne Day, Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang

The Courtauld Institute maintains that 35 years must pass before a period of time can be analysed, but MMK Frankfurt aren’t prepared to wait that long. This autumn they present ‘Fashion and Photography in the 90s’ – an exhibition, which seeks to understand a decade, which remains both uncovered and undoubtedly influential. Exploring the artistic collaborations between photographer and designer the show includes the work of Jurgen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Corinne Day, Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang. It will run simultaneously to ‘The Lucid Evidence’ Contemporary photography from the MMK collection’ from which the show takes a lot of its influences. Dazed spoke to the curator, Sophie von Olfers, to find out how it all started...

Dazed Digital: Why did you specifically decide to focus on the fashion and photography produced in the 90s?

Sophie von Olfers: I initially started planning the show, when I knew that the museum would show pieces from its contemporary photography collection. These selected pieces are very particular and have a clear focus on the body. The show almost drifts into erotic photography through the work of Nobuyoshi Araki and Larry Clark. However, I wanted to take it away from the gender discord and the idea of the male gaze. Eventually I thought it would be great to attempt an exhibition within the contemporary art context of the MMK collection, which looks at fashion in an interesting way. My starting point wasn’t looking at the 90’s and how I could portray that time. 

I did a lot of research and had conversations with a range of photographers, stylists, designers and magazines publishers. Through this process I came to the early nineties as a period when there was a window of opportunity for a lot of collaborative practices. I found this really interesting. People were looking at different modes of distribution for their own artwork. Suddenly, different disciplines within fashion, photography and design came together. Something so interesting occurred as a result of that coming together.


DD: Even advertising was altered by that change…

Sophie von Olfers: Absolutely, It absorbed these new trends and aesthetics so quickly. At first they were very innovative and radical. From 1990-95 the aesthetic was very pure and poor. No one was creating very over-produced imagery; instead people were looking at their surroundings like their friends, the street and the local neighborhood. This photography is often coined as ‘grunge’ – but I’m not a big fan of that term. I think it’s more of a kind of realness.


DD: Were there any difficulties creating an exhibition with such a young history?

Sophie von Olfers: I was very aware of not claiming any kind of truth because it is too early and this history has not been written yet. It is strange, because all of these people are still creating work today and it seems like yesterday to them. I do think it is an important history that hasn’t really been looked at yet. I found that there were so many different explanations of the time. Of course they were all within a certain framework, but the versions were all very different. 


DD: So, how did you choose the designers and artists involved?

Sophie von Olfers: I found it useful looking through the archives of magazines such as The Face, Purple, Dazed and Confused, I-D and Six from Comme des Garcons. I needed something that was representative of the pulse of the 90’s. Clearly there were so many photographers that I wanted to include, but there are people that won’t appear in the show. The decisions that I made were based on creating an interesting and successful exhibition. I went for the work that would fit together, but also create antagonisms.  


DD: It seems that these collaborations played such an important role in the work generated…

Sophie von Olfers: Yes they did. I spoke to Helmut Lang and he told me that a young Jurgen Teller approached him to photograph his work backstage because he liked what he was doing. Teller produced these phenomenal images. Helmut Lang thought that they acted as an extension of his work so used them for his next campaign. How amazing is that. There was such a sense of people creating these very natural win-win situations. Today collaborations are so strategic and are just moneymaking machines. I mean, just think of Damien Hirst for Levi. One can’t pretend they are artistic collaborations – It is completely ridiculous. 


DD: There will be events that run alongside the exhibition, how did they come about?

Sophie von Olfers: Well it was really important to me that the designers and artists were involved with something that they felt was relevant to their practice today. BLESS are giving their garments away to whoever has the best argument to own them. Essentially it is a comment on value, economic circuits and the exclusivity within fashion on who gets what. Mark Borthwick is cooking and we have invited Peter Saville to discuss graphic design within the 90’s. 

I wasn’t going to force them to recreate a fashion show from the 90’s, or hang Helmut Lang’s reflective trousers in the exhibition space. The garments would be completely reduced to artifacts or craft items. My challenge was to find a format that didn’t bring clothes into the space. Fashion is about the moment and how can you remove them from their context and reality. 

‘Not in Fashion: Fashion and Photography in the 90s’ runs from September 25 – Jan 9 2011 at MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt Am Main, Germany