At the star-studded gala opening last week of a retrospective exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum spanning Vivienne Westwood's 30-year career, the popular fashion designer spoke about the wisdom that could be gained from understanding the past.
For an iconoclastic and provocative
designer such as Westwood, the importance of history may seem somewhat of a shock. But Westwood often draws inspiration from classical literature, 18th century French painting, and British history.
Her silk taffeta ball gowns were inspired by Jean-Antoine Watteau paintings, while a beaded Queen of Sheba dress exudes eroticism with its intricate hand beading combined with exotic ostrich feathers.
Her tongue-in-cheek re-workings of Harris Tweed into a royal crown and school-girl-inspired outfits transformed traditionally Bri-tish materials into something sexy and lively.
Westwood stated that there is a very fine line between sex appeal and absurdity, and her work wryly hovers within these boundaries. Her breadth of appeal perhaps explained the very long lines of diverse visitors that ranged from young punk-style teens to elderly couples.
Westwood started out designing punk fashion in the 1970s, and unfortunately the exhibition does not provide much insight or background into the social conditions that provoked this movement, so it may give the local viewer the sense that punk was more of a fashion style rather than a revolt against societal values. Whether working with Keith Haring designs, rakish pirate trousers, ripped punk T-shirts, pagan-style printed georgette togas, fake ermine tippets, and corsets, all the fashion items on display do not look dated at all.
In one of the documentary videos on view, Westwood says, "When you analyze where the glamour is in clothes, the romance, it is, I believe, in something that people have seen before."
Westwood's genius derives from her ability to capture the essence of sex and romance in her designs in a way that appears timeless.
Also on display at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum are woodcut prints, oil paintings, bronzes and stainless steel sculptures by famed Taiwanese modernist artist Yang Ying-feng (楊英風, 1926 to 1997).
Yang, born in Yilan, learned calligraphy, painting, architecture and sculpture, not only in Taipei at what is now National Taiwan Normal University, but in Beijing, Tokyo and Rome.
Yang played a crucial role in the
development of early modernism in Taiwan.
Modernism, an art movement of the early 20th century, combined Oriental elements with Western aesthetics.
Yang is famed for introducing an international vocabulary of aesthetics and combining it with Taiwan's local cultural sensibilities. For this retrospective of Yang's work, over 90 of his creations are on view.
The Advent of the Phoenix is one of his more well-known works, comprised of shiny stainless steel that appears like sharp wings, ready to take flight. To Yang, the phoenix was one of the most important symbols signifying both nature and the universe.
An earlier bronze of a water buffalo symbolizes Taiwan's agricultural way of life.
In addition to his sculptures, Yang was adept at printmaking, especially in the traditional craft of woodcutting.
His Self-Portrait (1950) is graphically sharp, while his other prints give a glimpse into what life was like here half a century ago.