L'Officiel Art

Eckhaus Latta's Whitney Exhibition Does It All

Part retail store, part gallery exhibition, part interactive installation, and fashion exhibition, 'Possessed' invites all into Eckhaus Latta's multi-faceted, mad world.
Reading time 5 minutes
PHOTOGRAPHY BY THOMAS MCCARTY

Dynamic duo Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta of Eckhaus Latta are light years ahead of the game when it comes to fucking with tradition. Since launching in 2011, the two have managed to turn an “art school” brand into a budding business, becoming a household name among both the creative elite and members of gritty underground communities.

The two first met while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where Latta studied sculpture and Eckhaus took up textiles.“We both had really crazy style, I mean, we still turn a look but we used to go with full face-paint to class,” Latta tells me. “We didn't really know each other, but we were both like peacock-ing around and were like Who the fuck is that person? [Laughs.]”

It was inevitable, then, that they would one day end up with an exhibit at the often off-kilter Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, an institution whose mission is to “[acquire] and [celebrate] the works of great American artists, regardless of style.” Eckhaus and Latta were not alone in their efforts, joined by longtime friend, collaborator, and curator, Christopher Y. Lew.

THOMAS MCCARTY

Titled Eckhaus Latta: Possessed, it’s the museum’s first fashion installation since 1997’s The Warhol Look: Glamor Style, Fashion, and is divided into three parts. Upon entering, viewers are met by unlit, unfinished walls filled with light boxes portraying photographs of models like Gemma Ward and Michael Bailey Gates styled à la Steven Meisel wearing archival pieces. If you’ve ever ripped out pages from Vogue to hang them on a wall, get ready to feel nostalgic.

Then comes the retail section—inspired by the label’s own stores—a true sight to be seen. The walls have been covered in a shade of pale green—“Misted Green” to be exact—which helps steer away from that clinical white cube vibe art galleries gravitate towards. Add music by Tracy Chapman and the Cocteau Twins (among others) and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

THOMAS MCCARTY

Among the wares are paint-splattered blazers, tote bags, sweaters printed with poetry, and silk dresses, while neatly folded pants and socks are perched on shelves and makeshift tables, all available for purchase. Lew notes that having the retail component not only makes for an interactive experience but also helps keep the clothes alive, something the Met might want to keep in mind for next year’s Costume exhibit.

“We wanted it to be ‘fashion,’ yet have that tension, that questioning of what does it mean to have a retail space within an arts institution,” Eckhaus explains to me. “That felt essential, having the clothes be shop-able, consumable and accessible.” Indeed, it was all those things.

But don’t get too distracted by the shopping— there ’s plenty of incredible art to see. A Susan Cianciolo dressing curtain allows for privacy when trying on the space’s apparel offerings, while a trippy Annabeth Marks painting hangs proudly near a mirror (also by Cianciolo). Not to mention, the floor is littered with mix-and-match rugs by Sophie Stone, a table structure by Martine Syms, kiddie chairs courtesy of Nora Jane Slade, and a blowing plastic fan adorned with photographs, concocted by Jessi Reaves in a far-off corner.

“All of these artists are dear friends of ours and people whose work we really admire,” Eckhaus tells me while we sit on a bench by Torey Thornton. “Being able to be like, Hey would you be interested in working on making an object for this show at the Whitney? and then just allowing there to be this back-and-forth, it was a really lovely experience.”

The final stop of the exhibition is a makeshift surveillance room. Inside, several monitors show video footage of museum-goers navigating throughout the space, in addition to previously recorded footage, a part which Latta notes brings up “bigger questions of consent, being watched, and having your data collected.” Not to worry: none of the footage is actually recorded, it’s all just symbolic (art, amirite?) She continues: “There's a kind of benign feeling of that in the veil we're lifting in this room; you kind of feel and identify with clothes that you purchase, and you're also signing up for a lot more by doing that.”

While it’s not the first time their work has been shown in a museum setting (previous shows include the Hammer Museum and MoMA PS1) it is the first time an exhibition of theirs also doubles as a fully functional retail store, an overall effort to avoid any mode of traditional display. And if you couldn’t already tell, they succeeded.

THOMAS MCCARTY

Eckhaus Latta: Possessed is on view now at The Whitney through October 8.

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