#exhibition | Vogue 100: A Century in Style

I am very proud to present the second article by our contributing writer Ann-Katrin today. As a curator and art historian who lives part time in London she explores exhibitions and the art scene there for us. Read about her visit of the great exhibition “Vogue 100” today and find her other article here

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“Really and truly, such amazing things are going to happen to you that you would never believe them, unless you saw them in Vogue.”

It almost sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale, but these words were actually printed on the very first page of Vogue. Certainly a big promise, but Vogue has kept it and over a century later it is still the most influential fashion magazine in the world. This year British Vogue, the first branch-off of the original American magazine, is published in its 100th year, and as part of the magazine’s centenary celebrations the National Portrait Gallery, London has organised a remarkable exhibition in collaboration with British Vogue: “Vogue 100: A Century in Style”. 280 photographs from the Condé Nast archive (Vogue’s publishing house) and international collections are being shown together for the first time to tell the story of the magazine and showcase the remarkable range of photography that has been commissioned by British Vogue since it was founded in 1916.

Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia by Tim Walker, 2011 ©Tim Walker
Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia by Tim Walker, 2011 ©Tim Walker
Vogue’s image-makers have always not just been the greatest names in fashion and portraiture, but the greatest names of modern photography itself. The exhibition features numerous iconic images by leading photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Lee Miller, Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh, Helmut Newton and Mario Testino, to name just a few. Some people may disregard the magazine for featuring only fashion photography, but if you see the large-sized, brilliant prints in this exhibition you can’t help but admire the quality of work created for Vogue.

Anne Gunning in Jaipur by Norman Parkinson, 1956 ©Norman Parkinson Ltd/Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive
Anne Gunning in Jaipur by Norman Parkinson, 1956 ©Norman Parkinson Ltd/Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive
The exhibition is structured in a reversed chronology, starting with the magazine today and moving back through the decades to the very first issue. It took me on a journey through the last 100 years, from decades and styles I have witnessed myself – the grunge movement and the so called “heroin chic”, personified by Kate Moss, the supermodels of the 90s and the broad-shouldered silhouettes of the 80s – two eras I only know through their retro-interpretation of our time/and beyond: From the disco look of the 70s and the ‘Swinging Sixties’ to the Hollywood Glamour of the 30s and 40s, all the way back to the first editions of Vogue, which actually didn’t show photos yet but only fashion sketches. It really felt like I was travelling through time, and that impression was reinforced through the exhibition architecture. The National Portrait Gallery has commissioned the Theatre and opera set designer Patrick Kinmonth as Exhibition Designer & Artistic Director for this exhibition, and he has designed every room individually, in the style of the respective decade.

Much to my surprised British Vogue has been published without interruption for the last ten decades. Not only was it founded in 1916, when the First World War made transatlantic shipments of American Vogue impossible, but the magazine kept being published through the Second World War as well. It even took part in reporting the war: In 1944, the American photographer Lee Miller – a former Vogue model herself! – persuaded the magazine’s editor Audrey Withers to send her to Normandy to produce an article on wartime nursing. Miller then followed the Allied advance through Europe, reporting the liberation of Paris and sending a story from Buchenwald concentration camp. Her colleague Cecil Beaton shot his models in front of the ruins left by the Blitz, demonstrating that “Fashion is indestructible”.

Fashion is Indestructible by Cecil Beaton, 1941 ©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd
Fashion is Indestructible by Cecil Beaton, 1941 ©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd
As an art historian what probably interested me the most in this exhibition was the major role the arts have always played in British Vogue. The promotion of all that is new in the world of art started with its earliest issues. In October 1916 it showcased the wartime paintings in the quasi Cubist style of C. R. W. Nevinson, which made his reputation. Following, British Vogue introduced its readers to the drawings of Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso, the stage designs of Sonia Delaunay, the photographs of Man Ray and it announced the Bauhaus at the moment of its formation. It also featured articles from noted English writers such as Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley. In more recent times, Vogue has also occasionally invited artists to undertake the role of ‘guest editor’, among them Nan Golding and Cindy Sherman.

David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James by Cecil Beaton, 1968 ©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd
David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James by Cecil Beaton, 1968 ©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd
It is still early in the year, but without a doubt “Vogue 100: A Century in Style” will be in my Top 10 exhibitions of 2016! If you are planning to see it, make sure you book your tickets in advance; as you would expect the exhibition is very popular and otherwise you may have to wait for a few hours to get in. But if you can’t make it to London this spring, do not worry! The exhibition is accompanied by a superb catalogue, which Michelle has already reviewed for you last #artbookfriday!

#exhibition | Vogue 100: A Century of Style

#museum | National Portrait Gallery, London

#until | 11 February – 22 May, 2016

The exhibition is sponsored by Leon Max.

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