It sounds like a riddle for New York’s cultural elite: what do the windows at Barneys and a Lower East Side gallery have in common? The answer is pretty straightforward: Margaret Lee. From May to June, windows at the Madison Avenue and Downtown Flagship Barneys stores featured displays designed by the artist and co-founder of the 179 Canal and 47 Canal galleries. Lee herself has exhibited work at New York galleries including Jack Hanley and Team. Recently, she was commissioned by Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to create an installation exploring gender in the contexts of Abstract and Expressionist art
If the blending of commerce, fashion, and art has been around for a while, the city’s new collaborations seem to be tending toward experiment and performance: the theater and visual artist Robert Wilson recently partnered with Hermès on a surreal performance/installation at Cedar Lake in Chelsea. The work at Barneys is similarly theatrical.
At the Flagship store on Seventh Avenue, the windows incorporated sound and movement to create a hypnotic effect. Performance artist Helga Davis created a soundtrack on which two female voices repeated a series of words including “rind,” “front,” “sweet,” “money,” and “secrets,” some more obviously connected to the display than others. The first window featured a lush, white fur carpet out of which a cactus appears to grow. Suspended in the back was a Dries van Noten faux fur cape.
On a metallic table, a suspended silver banana revolves. In the second window, a fridge-like structure includes shelves of watermelons, handcrafted and painted by Lee, and a white Maison Margiela handbag. If the work is enigmatic, it’s also totally transfixing. One can spend quite awhile in front of the windows, listening to the voices, watching the rotating banana, and waiting for the refrigerator doors to open and close, open and close. There’s a sense of the unattainable—for many passersby, it’s not just the story of a mysterious installation they might not be able to grasp, but the luxury objects that lie behind the windows as well.
The Creators Project asked Lee a few questions to get a window into her process:
The Creators Project: The lines between fashion, design, and art all blur in your work. What are the effects of breaking these boundaries—in your own work and in the larger cultural realm?
Margaret Lee: Ideally we would all be able to be in this world and look at all things non-hierarchically and relate to people and objects honestly. Unfortunately this is not the case. I suppose I work with addressing the reality of the situation while playing out idealized fantasies that one’s desire might be truly personal and that those desires could be valued outside of the construct of validation.
In reinterpreting domestic settings for these windows, did you gain any new understandings of the spaces surrounding you?
Not really since the windows were not intended to replicate actual space or rooms. The windows were more an exploration into the psyches of people who might inhabit those imagined spaces.
The term "curate" is used a lot these days. What does it mean to you, and how do you approach "curation" when it comes to your different projects?
Oh, I’m still old school about the term and have not curated anything in the last few years, but when I have curated in the past, my goal was always to help facilitate the art and the artists in reaching the best possible exhibition in that it had clarity which would clear the space for the totally legibility of the artist’s intent.
Click here to learn more about the artist.