Bárbara Sánchez-Kane: Conspiring With Fashion

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, Look 1, 2023, belts, rivets, buckles, polyester, 200 x 180 x 35 cm. Photo: Dan Bradica. Courtesy the artist and Kurimanzutto, Mexico City & New York

In New Lexicons for Embodiment at Kurimanzutto, New York, garments take on a life of their own

With New Lexicons for Embodiment, Bárbara Sánchez-Kane brings Theodor Adorno’s claim that ‘Great artists since Baudelaire have conspired with fashion’ up to date. Featuring some 20 sculptural pieces made of materials such as bronze, leather, aluminium and rawhide, the Mexican artist and fashion designer’s first New York solo presentation shows versatility, craftsmanship and sartorial subversion.

In the foyer, the exhibition opens with a popup of Sánchez-Kane’s eponymous fashion brand. Founded in 2015 under the motto ‘Macho Sentimental’, the label specialises in over-the-top androgynous garments like nipple-revealing lambskin biker jackets or Rococo-style reconstructed polyester shirts with extra sleeves and flaps. (Björk, unsurprisingly, recently performed in a Sánchez-Kane floral-inspired headpiece made of blue leather slabs.) On a display cabinet to the right, among jewellery and other accessories, a pair of burgundy leather loafers catch my attention. In the surrealist tradition of assemblage, the shoe’s tongue is in fact a functional coin purse with clasp. The pun is elegant and efficient. (‘Put Your Money Where Your Shoe’s Mouth Is’?)

Across the gallery, four large wearable sculptures are attached to the walls: one red, another white and two black. They are made of hundreds of buckle leather belts strapped together and spiralling in near-organic patterns. At over two metres high, they are at once arousing and threatening, appealing and intimidating – reminiscent of a mutating straitjacket or a BDSM harness. Their shapes are neither human nor animal, nodding to a state of metamorphosis, one which undermines anthropocentric ideologies and aesthetics. (On another wall a simplified iteration features a single belt attached to a retractable dog leash and a poo bag holder. It is unclear what kind of creature is to go on either end.)

Lessons in drapping, 2023, rawhide, metal, wood, 325 × 92 × 84 cm. Photo: Dan Bradica. Courtesy the artist and Kurimanzutto, Mexico City & New York

At the back of the gallery, attached to the wall and supported by ceiling wires, is a floating half-octagon hang-rail garment-rack. From its two extreme pipes hang half a dozen coat hangers made of twisted kitchen steel tongs (another assemblage), and, from the middle ones, three animalesque sculptures made of aluminium and polyurethane foam. The latter hang by their heads like sad Peking ducks in the window of a Chinese restaurant. On the floor, their shadows appear almost anthropomorphic, like ballerinas in tutus with their legs dangling in the air. (Another Mexican artist comes to mind: the British-born surrealist Leonora Carrington, whose fantastical sculptures often projected shadows designed to look different from their source.)

But the pièce de résistance is in the far corner of the gallery: an eery three-metre-high sculpture made of drapelike off-white rawhide that erupts from a wooden school desk. It is like a spectral figure, at once celestial and chilling. I was reminded of Gilles Deleuze’s book The Fold (1988) – perhaps his weirdest – in which he compares the fashion of the Baroque era (‘in distending waves, billowing and flaring, surrounding the body with its independent folds, ever-multiplying’) to a body of infinite drapes that twist and weave through compressed time and space.

In New Lexicons for Embodiment, garments take on a life of their own, resisting the tyranny of function. Most importantly, Sánchez-Kane invites us to consider a world in which fashion design – and the desires that stem from it – caters to the nonhuman: from fabulist creatures to sadomasochist monsters and queer spirits. It isn’t always a hospitable world – nor is it intended as such – but one that radically questions, with a delightful touch of surrealism, our relationship to materiality, appearance and, indeed, embodiment.

New Lexicons for Embodiment at Kurimanzutto, New York, 14 September – 21 October

Most recent


We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy.