The sophisticated lovechild of art and fashion is in town this summer. New Zealand’s World of WearableArt international touring exhibition is at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, and if you don’t already know to just call it WOW, you won’t be able to refer to it any other way after you see it.
Including 32 garments selected from WOW’s annual wearable art competition, the exhibition will feature award-winning works such as Inkling, by multiyear WOW entrant and New Zealander Gillian Saunders. The 13-piece garment is made from sculpted and painted closed-cell foam pieces and is based on a fascination Saunders has with tattoos. Intrigued by the idea that tattoos can act as a psychological body armor, she also wonders if there might be an unknowable tipping point when there’s more ink in a tattooed body’s veins than blood. “The whole blood/ink ratio always fascinated me,” she says. “What if they came to life? And if tattoos could be 3D? How cool would that be?”
These were all concepts not completely out of the realm of Joy Armstrong’s mind when the FAC curator of modern and contemporary art began working three years ago to bring the internationally recognized World of WearableArt exhibition to Colorado Springs.
New Zealand conceived and bred, WOW began in 1987 with an audience of a few hundred; it now attracts more than 60,000 people each year to Wellington as the largest art event in the country, says Armstrong.
“I love the unique ways that nor just artists, but all human beings express identity by communicating with our physical bodies, most commonly through what we wear,” Armstrong says. “WOW encourages us to think about the ways we can merge fashion—something mainstream and universally understood—with high art and creativity and imagination.”
Aside from some elements of the FAC’s recent Virgil Ortiz show, incorporating fashion isn’t something the art museum has done much. “We have a very fine historic collection of Native American garments and jewelry, but we have yet to address contemporary body adornment or costume as fine art,” Armstrong says.
Another World of WearableArt work that will be part of the exhibition is American Dream by New Zealand artist Sarah Thomas. Her inspiration came from a visit to the Classic Car Museum in Nelson, New Zealand, where she encountered a 1950s Plymouth that encapsulated the spirit and image of the American Dream in that era when anything seemed possible. “I was inspired by the tall tail fins, extravagant bumpers and mountains of chrome,” Thomas says. But it wasn’t until she was halfway through working on the piece that she connected how cars are often referred to as female and the form became literally “a sassy part-car, part-woman.”
The FAC will kick off the exhibition with the return of Sashay, which Armstrong calls “part art party, part runway fashion show, part performance.” The June 22 event will include the work of 12 local and regional artists with garments inspired by World of WearableArt, plus Vicarious by Etainia Dagda, a Colorado Springs native now based in New Zealand whose garment was a finalist at WOW in 2017. Sounds like a perfect pairing to us. Experience it June 22 through Sept. 22.