The Seven Labors of Rostam

Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Haft Khan (detail), 2010 Mixed media on 728 ceramic tiles, 195 x 845 cm

Inspired by Iranian traditions of manhood that existed in a pre-revolutionized Iran, artist Khosrow Hassanzadeh combines Persian visual traditions with pop representations of the once-celebrated icon of the wrestler. Hassanzadeh finds inspiration in the Haft Khan, a story from the epic Persian poem Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), which tells of Rostam, an Iranian Hercules, who must go through seven quests, or labors, to save his sovereign from demons. As Persian folk wrestling became popularized in 19th-century Iran, the wrestler, or pahlavan, became the embodiment of Rostam for sharing similar heroic characteristics. 

“Wrestlers used to be an integral part of our culture” explains the artist. They were the caretakers of society; they were powerful men, strong men who were society’s protectors and providers. They helped people in need—whether helping to organize wedding ceremonies and memorials, or organizing relief during earthquakes. This culture has now been lost.”

The first solo exhibition in New York City of paintings by Iranian artist Khosrow Hassanzadeh will be on view at Leila Heller Gallery’s Chelsea location at 568 West 25th Street from March 1 through 31, 2012.

A new Pigalle: meet Stéphane Ashpool

When you live and work in the fashion capital of the world, it’s easy to get weary of the perpetual modus operandi of the commercial fashion industry. Luckily enough, there are also designers like Stéphane Ashpool to remind you that fashion can be freed from the commercially driven, trend dictating madness. For some people working in fashion, it’s still about transporting inspiration and emotionally laden concepts into wearable means of self-expression. An amateur basketball player and proud boutique owner in his native neighbourhood of Pigalle, the self-taught fashion designer Ashpool translates life in the 9th district into fashion, sports and arts projects. Meet PIGALLE!

Sleek: You chose such a highly connoted, almost clichéd name like PIGALLE for your own store and brand. Does that ever get problematic at all?
Stéphane Ashpool: There is no big mystery, no concept behind the name. I was just born and raised in Pigalle. I’ve got Yugoslavian origins. My mother was a professional dancer at the opera of Sarajevo and when she came to Paris, she settled down in Pigalle. Her dancing career brought her to the Moulin Rouge – this is basically where I spent my childhood and youth. It was just a natural name for me. Then of course, it’s quiet complicated to transform the name of a place into a brand. But it was a spontaneous decision.

Tell us more about your autumn-winter 2012/13 collection, La Nouvelle Eve…
It’s my fourth collection, but I first started with the boutique. Then, after absorbing so many ideas from fashion, sports and street culture, a collection was just the natural next step. I think I have a different, maybe unusual vision of fashion – I never went to design school and I’m surely the worst drawer in the world, but I work closely with my pattern-maker, I communicate the pictures I’ve got in mind and it works out in the end. For La Nouvelle Eve, we thought about rather loose-fit clothes, but still very structured and smart, or dandy-like. Something that could be from the forties, a kind of bygone age of virility and a hint of femininity.

We used a lot of velvets to stay sensual and yet played with the supposed dirtiness of the Pigalle area – London’s red light districts also inspired me for this – the amounts of latex you’d see in strip-clubs. Therefore, I reinterpreted usual men’s accessories such as tuxedo ties and bow ties or vests, in latex together with Berlin-based brand Très Bonjour. It’s all about using traditional clothing codes and making them fit my neighbourhood’s taste.

Is it important for you to stay close to your neighbourhood – not only for inspiration, but also in terms of production?
Producing in France is kind of a duty, if you want to have the best artisanal result. We produce our collections in France, Italy and Eastern Europe. A prestigious hat maker in the South of France does all our hats and headwear. He’s kind of a living patrimony for his metier. I actually started with designing hats, I love them. It’s the DNA of PIGALLE. That said, it’s a particularly dangerous challenge to stay focused on one accessory only. Hats just always put you in a certain scene, they’re a very dominant part of an outfit. I wanted to create headwear only, but I wanted them alive on models, so I was kind of forced to go further and start designing fashion. But I’m not interested in respecting the usual pace of fashion. I don’t necessarily follow seasons and I don’t want to present my collections on proper runways. I prefer get-togethers and casual presentations set in a human environment. It’s just about simple clothes with a story.  

PIGALLE's shows are more like a party

You’re fusing worlds that seem oppositional on first sight: high fashion and street sports. How did your interest in fashion come about?
It all started with choreographing fashion show. My mother, Doushka, who had a long dancing career, started working with designers on their show choreographies. She was pretty successful at it. We’ve been collaborating with designers like Damir Doma, Sharon Wauchob, Manish Arora, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, Comme des Garcons and many others. We basically ended up taking care of the entire production of the fashion shows. So now, if I want to find some pieces for my PIGALLE boutique there’s no problem – I can basically call Rick Owen’s wife and just pass by the atelier to pick up some pieces of previous collections, and present them in the boutique for a reasonable price. Being involved with the designer’s work brought us to a family-like relationship. However, we’re not only selling high fashion pieces; PIGALLE is all about mixing different styles, which means that we also support young designers, like Soulland and Libertines.

Rapper ASAP Rocky recently sported PIGALLE wear in his last music video “Wassup”.
It’s just as nice thing to see. We represent a new generation who love the mix of different attitudes within fashion, music, sports or just other cultural and ethnical multiplicities.

What’s next for PIGALLE?
The Parisian fashion platform “Cité de la Mode et du Design” will re-open its doors soon; it’s an initiative of the Parisian Galliera Museum. Balenciaga will be there for example, showcasing Ghesquière’s drawings, Junya Wantanabe will present her thus far undisclosed wedding gowns. Thanks to my last show, I’ve been also asked to participate. I’m also working on the next collection, inspired by Morocco during French occupation, with my friend Charaf Tajer. I’ll keep you posted.

Stéphane Ashpool recently designed the sportswear of his local basket team. Take a look at Paul Geusbroek’s video for Pigalle x Nike here.

Pigalle Boutique,
7 rue Henry Monnier, Paris

The Power of Innocence

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig.101 Photo ©Grashina Gabelmann

Scandinavian artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset could not have chosen a better day to unveil their sculpture “”Powerless Structures Fig 101” for The Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. It was, for February (or for London in general), an uncharacteristically hot and sunny day and as a result the sunlight was placing the golden sculpture of a boy rocking on a horse on the fourth plinth in the spotlight. Even hours after the unveiling, people who were unaware this was the “new kid on the block” were surrounding it with cameras in hand. Standing across from King George the Fourth on his horse, the sculpture subverts this military history in a naive but mischievous fashion.

The boy seems to have been received with open arms by the public though some wished for a more androgynous figure or even a girl, which would have gone against the traditional military symbols of the square even more. But it’s a boy and the artists had good enough a reason for this choice: “Boys grow up still thinking they need to be a hero,” says Elmgreen. “Trafalgar Square is a symbol of that. It is so masculine. We are talking about a different kind of masculinity.”

By Grashina Gabelmann

Boris Mikhailov, Time is out of joint

Boris Mikhailov, Rote Serie, 1968 - 75. Courtesy Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin ©The Artist

The historical mechanism of political ideologies still casts a long shadow in Berlin, a city which has proved a good school for photographer Boris Mikhailov: “I knew the East, I came here to learn about the West. Berlin has given me the possibility of a new life, but an immigrant is an immigrant. You never forget where you’re from.” Mikhailov was born in the Ukraine in 1938, and his engaging works take a contemporary position in the grey zone between documentary and fine art photography, while revealing an exceptional sensibility for personal narratives.

His seminal series “Case History, depicting the derelict life conditions of those left homeless after the fall of the Soviet Union, was the subject of a major survey at the MoMA in late 2011, and now the Berlinische Galerie is holding the largest retrospective of his work in Berlin to date. Since starting out as a photographer in the mid-1960s, the artist has produced a wide-ranging and impressively multi-facetted oeuvre. A virtuoso, Mikhailov has drawn on very different possibilities presented by the medium, depicting his immediate surroundings with both brutal bluntness and humorous irony. His constant exploration of new photographic techniques, his use of widely varying styles, but also his abilitiy to switch between a conceptual approach and a documentary perspective, make him one of the most interesting photographers today. Origin and language play an important role for Mikhailov, whose imagery relies on experience and knowledge. “You have to be in insider in a society,” he says, “to be able to depict it the way I try to. I’m not an insider in Germany, though, my German is not good enough.”

Boris Mikhailov
Time is out of joint. Photography 1966 – 2011
Berlinische Galerie
February 24 –  May 28 2012

Shingo Yoshida

Japanese artist Shingo Yoshida investigates the relationship of individuals to their immediate reality in his photos, films and installations. Geographic as well as mental distances form the basis of the difficulties he portrays, often with a performative quality borrowed from the theatre of the absurd. In an environment that is constantly evolving, and a global reality that fuses cultures and identities to become less and less related to any specific place, Yoshida returns to folkloristic myths and legends to construct a micro universe in his art. In the video SOS Morse code-Fernsehturm (2010), the artist documents himself at the top of the Berlin TV tower, sending out a Morse code SOS to no recipient in particular in a city that could be anywhere in the world. While generally considered a negative feeling, to Yoshida loneliness is something so beautiful and so forceful it becomes almost tangible.

The Steins Collect

Cecil Beaton, Alice B. Toklas; Gertrude Stein, 1936. ©Cecil Beaton studio archive at Sotheby's

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears” Gertrude Stein once said, highlighting her irreverent approach to both art and literature. Avid art collectors, Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife Sarah were important patrons of modern art in Paris during the first decades of the twentieth century. The Stein’s family collection was exhibited in Paris’ Grand Palais earlier this year, and is now opening at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.

“L’aventure des Stein” retraces Gertrude’s entire family’s move to France at the turn of the last century, and each family member’s passionate acquiring of modern art. The exhibition focuses in particular on the bold, matron-like character of Gertrude Stein, the role she has played in the art scene of the time, and the sometimes-intimate relationships she has had with some of the painters.

Interestingly, when she’d first moved to Paris, Gertrude Stein was unfamiliar with the art world, and it was her brother Leo who introduced her to the avant-garde scene of the time. Before long, their Montparnasse flat became the heart of a thriving art and literature scene. The Steins’ Saturday evening salons introduced a generation of visitors to recent developments in art, particularly the work of their close friends Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, long before it was on view in museums.

But one the most notable elements of her life in Paris – and of the show – is her friendship with Picasso, who she began collecting at an early stage. Alongside notebooks and the now world-famous ‘Nu à la Serviette’, the exhibition also presents more personal pieces, like the self-portrait of a young Pablo, or the portrait he had made of Gertrude Stein. The latter had turned out to be a difficult experience, as both later recalled in their diaries. Picasso had found it hard to capture the true spirit of the writer, hidden behind a stern ‘mask’. While their circle thought it look nothing like Gertrude, Picasso replied, “She’ll end up looking like that.”

Stein returned the homage a few years later, when she began passionately writing about art and produced a famous portrait in the publication ‘Camera Work’, inspired by some of the pieces she owned; the text was described a ‘cubist text’, creating a parallel between her deconstruction of grammar and the movement’s pictorial melt-down of conventional shapes.

When Gertrude Stein’s lifelong partner Alice B. Toklas first came into her life, her brother disapproved so strongly that he moved back to the United States, and the collection was split between them. Gertrude kept the Picassos, while Leo held on to the Renoirs.

The Steins Collect
Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
February 28–June 3, 2012

The Morrisroe Show

Mark Morrisroe Blow Both of Us, Gail Thacker and Me, Summer 1978, 1986 ©Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Sammlung Ringier) in Fotomuseum Winterthur

Fascinated with the role-playing and gender-bending youths on the Boston art and punk scene in the late seventies and eighties, photographer Mark Morrisroe took on his own second identity as a down-on-her-luck drag queen named Sweet Raspberry, and was later identified as Boston’s first punk. His photographs didn’t just record those times, as an artist Morrisroe managed to fuse documentary-style immediacy and abstraction.
In collaboration with the Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at the Photo Museum Winterthur, an upcoming exhibition at Villa Stuck will show a selection of 300 pieces of Morrisroe’s work. This is the largest survey of Morrisroe’s photography in Germany to date.
Ranging from the early black & white prints all the way through to the Polaroids that help place him on the photography map, the exhibition will allow the public to view a life and a blossoming artistic career that was sadly taken too soon.

Mark Morrisroe at Villa Stuck, Munich.
1 March – 28 May 2012

The duct tape cocktail dress

Although the Dutch label Avelon has been around for a while, its success under the creative direction of Erik Frenken really made it a brand to watch out for. After a stint at Alberta Ferretti’s atelier, Frenken joined Viktor & Rolf and worked as Head Designer of Women’s wear for 4 years. In 2008 Frenken started as Design Director for Avelon and in 2010 he took over the brand to develop and extend it, taking the opportunity to establish his own unique look. He often refers to his own vision as “the duct tape cocktail dress” – a concept which unites the rawness of the streets with high end fashion. This contrast is fundamental for the designs of Erik Frenken and is at the DNA of Avelon. Sleek wanted to get a closer look.

Sleek: What can we expect from the current collection?
Erik Frenken: The new spring/summer collection works around the balance between elegant designs and the cool and roughness of the streets. I think an outfit is cooler when it is not polished. There should be a kind of “I don’t care” attitude in the look. Last summer we began to use pop colours like the bright blue and this season we added bright green. We mixed these bright colours with dirty ones to get the Avelon palette.
I always go to London or Berlin to find the look that would set the tone for the entire collection. London because there are lots of cool places to find inspiration, and Berlin because it changes so fast, there is always something to discover. In London I found this vintage, stiff jersey oversized top that someone attached a big silk flap with rough edges to. This was the start of a part of the collection.

Sleek: In the spring/summer 2012 collection, clean and edged details create a clear, graphically inspired story. Could that be regarded as a reaction to, or a side effect of having worked for Viktor& Rolf for 4 years?
EF: Of course my previous experience makes me the designer that I am today. The clean and edged details and forms is a reflection of myself and my view on the world. In a way, of course, it reflects part of my personal growth as a designer, and Viktor& Rolf is also a big part of that. But one of the reasons I started Avelon was to be able to create clothing that is closer to myself and more accessible to my friends.

Sleek: Alexander McQueens’s collection were provocative, Miuccia Prada’s are luxurious and Raf Simmons is edgy yet simple. Every designer has a signature. What’s Erik Frenken’s?
EF: My signature is the signature of Avelon: the duct tape-cocktail dress. Luxury garments with rough edges and delicate elements. Avelon is an affordable brand that’s always special and distinguished, and which creates a directional and season-less look for every occasion.

Sleek: You won the “Dutch Prix de la mode” award last October as best Dutch designer. What role is the award going to play in your and in Avelon’s progress?
EF: It’s great to get recognition for your work and the work of my team, especially from professionals like Marie Claire. But it’s a steppingstone. I always say that we’re only a few centimetres down the two-kilometre line. My ambition is to build a strong, recognisable international brand that is globally appreciated by professionals and consumers. We know where we want to go and we are willing to go the extra miles.

By Ga-Young Park

Sleek speaks dots.

With a career spanning over more than six decades, Yayoi Kusama’s major retrospective will open at the Tate Modern this week. The exhibition promises to show Kusama’s earlier works with the more unknown pieces, shining a new light on Kusama’s vast body of work. Here sleek talks exclusively with Rachel Taylor, assistant curator of the show, about the installations present at the exhibition and what the viewer can expect from stepping into „Kusama’s World“.

sleek: Yayoi Kusama has had an incredibly extensive career, why is now the right time to do a retrospective and what will it mean for her future career?
Rachel Taylor: Although much of her recent work is familiar to art lovers, Tate felt that it was an opportune moment to introduce the broader public to a fuller range of her innovative and exciting work from her extensive career. The exhibition focuses on moments of innovation in Kusama’s practice, showing how her work has developed in tandem with the times. We hope that this exhibition will enable Tate Modern’s British and international audience to be fully immersed in ‘Kusama’s world’ and that she will garner plenty of new fans in the process!

sleek: With such a huge history of work behind the artist, how did you go about the selection process for the exhibition?
RT: The selection was made with moments of innovation in mind, privileging the first iteration of each new phase in the artist’s work. So, for instance, rather than showing Infinity Net paintings from recent years, we have a strong selection of the very first, all white Infinity Net paintings Kusama produced between 1958 and 1960. The exhibition is a chronological retrospective and includes work from across the artist’s career. However, as the 1960s was such an important decade for Kusama, we have dedicated a number of rooms to work from this period.

Yayoi Kusama, Kusama posing in Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show 1963 Installation view, Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York © Yayoi Kusama and © Yayoi Kusama Studios Inc.

sleek: Much of Yayoi Kusama’s work relies heavily on installation views that completely immerse the viewer. How did you translate this into the retrospective?
RT: We have included three of Kusama’s installations in the exhibition. Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show of 1963, her first installation, pairs a phallus-encrusted rowboat with posters depicting the same object that surround the viewer. I’m Here, but Nothing is a beautiful immersive polka dot installation first realised in 2000 in which an ordinary living room is transformed into a polka dotted phantasia. The exhibition concludes with Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011, which was commissioned specially for this exhibition and is the largest Infinity Mirror Room Kusama has made to date. Visitors are invited to walk through this magical mirrored space while brightly coloured lights flash on and off around them. In addition to these works we have sought to install the whole exhibition as a series of immersive environments, giving a sense in each room of what it would have been like to encounter Kusama’s work in her studio or in one of her exhibitions at a given moment in time.

sleek: How would you describe Yayoi Kusama’s work to the public who have never experienced before?
RT: It is hard to describe such varied work in simple terms! Kusama’s work is magical, experimental, psychologically-charged, colourful, hallucinatory, inspiring, allusive, surprising, sometimes joyful, sometimes sombre, always full of life. She has remained true to her vision and her unique worldview throughout her career.

Yayoi Kusama, 1965. Courtesy of Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo © Yayoi Kusama, courtesy Yayoi Kusama studio inc. Photo: Eikoh Hosoe

sleek: Out of the pieces of work on display in the exhibition, is there a specific piece that patricularly stands out for you and why?
RT: Kusama’s less well known early works on paper are luminous and beautiful and we have a wonderful selection in the exhibition. And I am also looking forward to spending time in the Infinity Mirrored Room!

sleek:How much input did Yayoi Kusama have with the show? What was the main goal she wanted to achieve with the retrospective?
RT: Kusama has been involved in the exhibition from its inception. She was closely involved in the selection of works, particularly the room featuring her recent paintings. She wanted to ensure that her career was articulated in the exhibition with the appropriate detail and respect.

Yayoi Kusama, The Passing Winter 2005 (detail) Tate. Presented by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2008 © Yayoi Kusama, courtesy Yayoi Kusama studio inc. Photo: Tate Photography

Interview by Amy Binding