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1708's new exhibit satisfies our obsession with clothing, fashion and accessories while offering a deeper understanding of their sartorial significance.

Passion for Fashion

"All women are clothing fetishists," said Sigmund Freud in 1909. While Freud may be considered out of fashion, he may have been on to something with this audacious comment. I have worked at a vintage clothing shop for four years and am a constant witness to females, fashion and fetishism (including my own). While the idea of women shopping or hoarding clothes is a well-worn cliché, there seems to be something different happening in regard to vintage wear — that ineffable desire to don a hat from the past, to slip into a gabardine suit worn by one's mother, to gently fondle the white cotton eyelet of a baby dress or the yellowed crisp mesh of a wedding veil.

"Dress Up," curated by Sally Bowring and currently on view at 1708 Gallery, seems to be dealing with these ideas and much more. Organized around the gallery's annual "Wearable Art" fund raising event (this year scheduled for Oct. 28), the exhibition, per Bowring, "focuses on apparel and notions of fashion as content."

One of the five artists on display, Kristin Caskey's "Miss Snowflake" emphatically signals the theme of the show by her positioning in the front window of the gallery. The work is a white vinyl confection of a dress, perforated with holes in the shapes of snowflakes and illuminated from within. Resting on acrylic batting, she has no physical body, no hands, feet or countenance, but contains a personality all the same. Like many of the works in the show, the female body is only suggested, not explicitly represented.

Lauren Katz's tiny delicate cutouts function as paper pop-up books hung on the wall where little doors are opened to reveal surprises underneath. The doors are lavished with illustrative torsos donning bras, corsets and panties and when lifted, voyeuristically reveal nude flesh below or even the skeleton and viscera of the body. This Peeping Tom quality is carefully neutralized by the work's charm and innocence as each is embellished with pretty stitches, ribbons, and buttons.

The beautifully poignant monotypes of Diane Gabriel relate to the fetishistic qualities of vintage apparel. Her prints depict single objects such as a skirt, christening gown, or corset, and are rendered in muted shades of brown, tan and black, much like the patina of an old photograph or faded calfskin gloves. The images are flattened, emptied of their human captive, as if pressed within a photo album or memory box. While Gabriel's titles allude to the constriction of female clothing ("Corset/Wings I" or "Bones on my Bones"), the bindings are loose and undone, rather suggesting escape, freedom and exemption.

Carole Garmon's large installations also reference captivity and restriction. "Terrain" comprises more than 40 fabric aprons wrapped around metal armatures and suspended from the ceiling. As such, the aprons transform into covered wagons hovering over the prairie. While the varying colors, patterns and fabrics lend a cheerful air, there is certainly a subtle sadness that prevails. The structures, suspended and immobilized, appear limp and helpless — their soft, fluttering apron strings providing relentless yet useless movement. While pretty aprons connote 1950s kitchens, homemakers and confinement to the kitchen, Gabriel is not so obvious in her meaning. She is refreshingly inscrutable, merely suggesting without boldly saying.

Perhaps even more impenetrable is Carolyn Henne's large sculpture of a female torso of simulated mattress ticking balanced upon a pedestal of cotton batting. She stands guardian to a strange room where illuminated dancers move across the outside and heavy, red-splattered walls and tables make up the interior. It is an unsettling piece that perhaps is a metaphor for clothing in its ability to disguise the anguished, bloodstained abattoir within.

"Dress Up" is a mesmerizing show that satisfies our obsession with clothing, fashion and accessories by looking at these often emptied objects and understanding their deeper sartorial significance and fullness. If some of the works tend to wear their maker's heart on their sleeves, well, they are the better for it.

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