Being confined to SE1 in many of my waking hours there have at least been two consolations this week. Borough Market of course is the destination of choice for lunch, even if it means having to walk past The London Bridge Experience and its shit-tackularly spectral shoite there and back.
The other consolation this week has been a visit to a new museum (to me I mean, I think it’s been there for a decade at least), the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street. A friend of mine, who is very much not a fashionista, makes it his destination of choice when visiting London and had been pressing me to go for ages. So I did.
I didn’t really know what to expect as I’m not much of a fashion person myself either. I vaguely thought it might be a space devoted to the history of fashion in London. Well, it’s not that but that’s not a criticism. You can get that (or a great part of it) in the V&A. No, the FaTMu is a lunchtime-sized exhibition space dedicated to a rolling programme of one-off shows.*
So it was pot luck that I got Missoni, a label that I’d vaguely heard of but really knew nothing about. Well it turns out they’ve done a whole lot of shit, and most of it tremendously good shit. Italians, Rosito and Ottavio Missoni were inspired by the Futurist art movement and their Italian successors to use ‘Made in Italy’ fabrics to produce some quite stunningly beautiful clothes. As you can see from the header image one of their distinctive design features is to use brightly coloured bands that have a musicality and rhythm that is unique to their look in spite of much imitation.
The central hall of the exhibition space has a slightly sinister array of mannequins wearing clothes from a range of years of Missoni’s collections.
What’s missing in the photograph though is the musique concrète that is piped through the gallery. Unlike the Russians at the NPG this music enhances the work displayed since it is assembled from the factory sounds where the fabrics are produced. The machine noises pulse and throb industrially but also suggest something organic; blood pumping through arteries or the sound of your own lungs when resting. It emphasises the way in which the fabrics Missoni use combine artifice with nature. You’re not meant to touch the hairy walls but I couldn’t help myself just once.
Like me you might not be a fashion nut but fear not, there is more to the exhibition than fashion. As mentioned the original Missonis were inspired by Italian artists and before you get to the clothes you have a very high quality selection of Italian fine art of the twentieth century. There are big names that were familiar to me from visits to the Estorick, such as Severini, Balla and Lucio Fontana. But also unfamiliar names – Gottardo Ortelli, Tancredi and many more.**
This I would argue makes it a show not to miss for the art lover. Although not displayed in the best of circumstances (basically in gloomy corridors) the paintings have so much energy and colour that they light up the building by themselves.
And it’s hit after hit after hit. Sure, you could probably see many pieces in this style and of this quality down the road in Tate Modern but there you’d have to elbow your way through rucksacks, shooting sticks and class 3c. Here, all is tranquillity save for the blast of fierce beauty on the walls. The exhibition runs to September so I think I’ll pop back when I’m feeling glum and need cheering up.
*It also has an excellent café which you can visit without entry to the museum. Quiche, salad and wine for a tenner isn’t a bad deal.
** I wanted to put the Estorick into this review as its stuff is so complementary but I haven’t had the time to go there. But if you have the time do that thing, it is a great museum.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).