BERNHARD WILLHELM 3000
by Evan Moffitt
Museum of Contemporary Art, Pacific Design Center – Los Angeles
Published in Gayletter, February 2015
There were cockrings and cockatoos galore at the opening of Bernhard Wilhelm 3000: When Fashion Shows The Danger Then Fashion Is The Danger, the iconic German designer’s first American museum exhibition, at MOCA PDC in Los Angeles. Artists and fashionistas—including Luke Gilford, KESH, Niko the Ikon, Michel Gaubert, and Pamela Anderson—socialized over gallery floors carpeted in blue Astroturf. Along walls covered in blue and yellow paint splatters, Wilhelm and longtime collaborator Jutta Kraus installed photographs of models, birds, and the designer himself (in crotch-hugging spandex suits), the forehead plumage of white cockatoos mimicking Wilhelm’s spiky bleached ‘do. In the center of the main gallery, eerie mannequins with glowing tongues folded through miniature cockring-ballgags assume defiant poses, dressed in Wilhelm’s fall collection: a profusion of mesh, camouflage, straightjackets, and giant zippers like an Orientalist military assault on a mental asylum.
The show was designed as a site-specific, “thinking-forward” installation, announced by the title’s “3000”: the photographs, paintings, sculptures, and new fall clothing line displayed are an irreverent response to the uniformity of fashion in the 21st century and a radical manifesto for fashion in the 30th. Wilhelm presents viewers with a playful, postapocalyptic vision of the year 3000, when fashion will finally be liberated from an endless recycling of past styles.
Wilhelm and Kraus recently moved their studio from Paris to Los Angeles, following the likes of Saint Laurent and Rodarte. If this exhibition is any indication, Los Angeles’ playful and image-obsessed culture promises to surface in Wilhelm’s rebellious, punk-inspired designs. As the show’s title suggests, Wilhelm’s clothes are radical precisely because they reject the bland uniformity of mainstream couturiers. He shows us the danger of becoming the same and offers us the tantalizing danger of difference.