Art According to Gucci – How Alessandro Michele Became the Biggest Patron of the Fashion Industry
The Artist is Present at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai; Maurizio Catelan, Untitled, 2018, courtesy of the artist
If you happen to be scrolling down Alessandro Michele’s Instagram, you would be safe to mistake him for a really nostalgic student of history of art who happens to really love all things Gucci. Inspiring and humorous in the least expected ways, @alessandro_michele (previously known under the alias lallo25) is the digital library of Gucci moodboards, collating together the best of the past, present and future. Fashion, music, film… This library has a great cross-disciplinary reach, but it’s definitely the art world that gets biggest spotlight on there. And that’s just a reflection of the greater story happening on the brand front – simultaneously with the great rise of the popularity of the brand, Gucci has become synonymous with a specific lifestyle, one that’s so naturally interwoven with fine arts. There’s a continuous dialogue between the two worlds – whether through inspirations and references or special projects, books, show venues and photographers shooting campaigns. In his rise as one of the biggest designer names in the world, Alessandro Michele also became fashion industry’s biggest patron of the arts. Ahead of tonight’s show for Cruise 2020 at the The Capitoline Museums, we look at the artistic journey of Alessandro Michele’s Gucci.
Unlike some brands forcing their way into the category of lifestyle, art seems like the genuine personal reflection of Michele’s world. Raphaelites, objects dating to the Belle Époque, Michelangelo’s David or Van Gogh’s lesser known portraits – the designer’s passion for the past is evident, but his creativity also breathes with dedication to curating contemporary works. “Art is about connection. No real artist wants to make a piece and close it in a box so that nobody gets to touch it. In the same way, fashion is about connection,” Michele told Nick Haramis of Interview magazine before the opening of the October 2018 exhibition in Shanghai. With contemporary satirical artist Maurizio Cattelan he mounted The Artist is Present in Yuz Museum in Shanghai, a show taking the name from the the notorious, 700-hour-long performance by Marina Abramovic. This choice was a reflection of the subjects the whole exhibition spoke through – originality, expression, intention. With the help of the works of over 30 international artists, Michele and Cattelan created a manifesto of modern creativity, rooted in reinterpretation of what already exists. During his rise at Gucci, the Italian fashion designer has been questioned about the originality of his ideas, and this show was an amalgamation of his own vision and the public’s idea of the brand.
Neither Nor: The challenge to the Labyrinth, Italian Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2019; photography Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of DGAAP-MiBAC
In addition to co-curating The Artist is Present, Michele is known for supporting art shows internationally. This year, Gucci was the main sponsor of the Itallian Pavilion at the Biennale in Venice which starred the works of three major Italian names – Enrico David, Chiara Fumai and Liliana Moro. The presentation once again tackled the subject of the research between past and present, with notable guests from the art world such as Anthea Hamilton, Carolyn Christov Bakargiev and Maria Luisa Frisa. Another great moment for Italian art came in April when the Maxxi Museum in Rome opened the Paolo di Paolo: Mondo Perduto, an exhibition exploring the contradictions of the post-war Italian society in the 1950s and 1960s. Narrated through over 250 unseen images taken by the late photographer, some of which found their way into a photobook of the same name, the show was a collaborative project between Michele and the photographer’s daughter Silvia. Martin Parr’s most recent show at the National Portrait Gallery in London was also supported by Gucci, which came as the cherry on top of an ongoing collaboration of Parr and the brand’s creative team. Lookbook shoots, special projects and photobooks – the love between the two is mutual, and it’s one that arguably re-introduced the rich heritage of Parr’s images to the fashion world.
Paolo di Paolo. Mondo Perduto exhibition curated by Giovanna Calvenzi; photos taken from © ARCHIVIO FOTOGRAFICO PAOLO DI PAOLO, courtesy of Fondazione ‘MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts’
But when they aren’t co-hosting exhibitions in locations all around the world, Gucci are cultivating a hub of their own. Not-so-hidden in the heart of Florence is the Gucci Garden, a space created for exhibiting a wide range of pieces from collections dating back to the house’s origins in 1921, as well as recent work from collaborative artists, memorabilia, ephemera and contemporary art. Set inside the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, the space also holds a restaurant by Massimo Bottura and a boutique with a selection of exclusive goodies, specially curated for the space.
Gucci Garden in Florence; photo courtesy of Gucci
There’s a way Michele commercialises ideas which aren’t necessarily so which makes his work so relevant in the world right now. Decadent accessories, maximalist prints and odd-ish silhouettes – as long as it’s Gucci, people will buy it. But for those that can’t cough up a grand for a velvet bag with butterfly hardware embellished with rhinestones, Michele is offering a way more approachable and immersive interaction with that bag via an artist photobook. Paolo di Paolo, Martin Parr, Derek Ridgers… The list of names involved goes on and on, which is probably why the brand decided to open their own space to host all these titles – the Gucci Wooster bookshop in NYC. The most recent addition to the opus is Gucci by Harmony Korine, a publication with photographs shot by the American film director, artist and screenwriter, featuring the imagery from the brand’s Pre-Fall 2019 campaign. Shot on location in the ancient towns of Ercolano and Pompei in the Campania region of southern Italy, this project was just part of the ongoing support of historical sights by presenting these locations through the recognisable Gucci lens.
Gucci by Harmony Korine; photo courtesy of Harmony Korine
Each of the yearly Cruise shows were taken as an opportunity to introduce the world with one of the Gucci places – the Dia-Art Foundation in New York City in 2016, The Cloisters of Westminster Abbey in London for 2017, the Palatine Gallery at Pitti Palace in Florence for 2018 and the Promenade Des Alyscamps in Arles for the last year’s show. This year, the location Michele is aiming to introduce the new generations to are the legendary Capitoline Museums in Rome which is also known as the oldest museum complex in the world. What exactly will walk down the catwalk there we don’t know yet. But we can all be certain it will look fabulous, with some historical art references subverted into looking modern. It’s the Gucci by Alessandro Michele recipe, and just like a good pizza – it’s one we could have on our plate every day of the week.
Gucci Cruise 2019, as shot by Daniel Arnold for Issue One of 10+ Magazine