By Kingsley Guy
In the 17th century, the Latin word vanitas described a form of still-life painting that dealt with the fleeting nature of earthly existence. Artists incorporated such images as skulls, decaying fruit and even bubbles, which are here one moment and gone the next. Today, artists explore the vanitas theme through a variety of mediums, including haute couture.
Vanitas: Fashion and Art runs through July 20 at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. The exhibition features contemporary photos, paintings and silkscreens incorporating the vanitas motif. These are juxtaposed with apparel by noted fashion designers, including Elsa Schiaparelli, Yohji Yamamoto and Iris van Herpen, whose skeletal corset-garment seems to warn of the ephemeral nature of status and beauty.
“Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world?” asked the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, alluding to the observation in Ecclesiastes that “All is vanity.” The question may be worth contemplating while strolling through the Bass.