Fashion, Art and Commerce: A Deep Dive Into Artist Sylvie Fleury's Consumerist World

by Sofia Anna Dolin on 13 October 2023

Titled 'SF', the new exhibition in Sprueth Magers Gallery puts three-decades worth of Sylvie Fleury works on show.

Titled 'SF', the new exhibition in Sprueth Magers Gallery puts three-decades worth of Sylvie Fleury works on show.

I stroll down Bond Street in sparkling trainers. As I do so, I'm peering into the infamous street's window displays, taking a mental note of how what once used to be examples of artistic showcases, now have clearly reverted back to catering to the well-heeled city centre crowd. Among all the displays, it's Sprueth Magers Gallery that turns my head. The display features designer-branded paper shopping bags littered across the floor. In that moment of uncertainty where art blends with fashion, you instantly recognise the works of Sylvie Fleury.

Sylvie Fleury images courtesy of Sprueth Magers Gallery

Fleury's art explores the interplay between mass culture and consumer goods, teasing out our own desires to possess whatever it is we're told we need to buy. Her work bridges the gap between commerce and art, embarking on a cyclical journey from boutiques to gallery spaces and back again. This new exhibition does a deep dive into Fleury's work over the decades, simultaneously shedding light on the ever-evolving landscape of mass consumerism.

Sylvie Fleury images courtesy of Sprueth Magers Gallery

In the early nineties, Fleury's now-famous installations included paper shopping bags adorned with renowned brand names. These pieces stirred mixed reactions, with some perceiving them as an embrace of consumerism, while others interpreted them as a commentary on retail extravagance. In order to understand the context which Fleury seeks to interrupt, it's imperative to note that just before the turn of the century and shortly after, paper bags of such were seen as genuine fashion accessories. Carrying your P.E kit in a designer shopping bag cemented your status as an 'it' girl in school. A woman walking down Regent Street with multiple shopping bags hanging off her arms harnessed more power than those who simply staggered along empty-handed as she not only reflected her own but society's desire for fashion. This desire - although appearing in a different form - undoubtedly still exists. Just this year, Bottega Veneta introduced brown leather versions of classic paper grocery bags, concealing the prestigious brand name yet allowing for recognition. These unbranded bags signify a shift in desire from one brand to another, a desire not for conspicuous recognition but perhaps for a more subtle form of acknowledgement, rooted in status and the noting of needn't having to boast through consumerism. Needless to say, you know the world has gone mad when the bags that were originally intended to carry our consumer goods transform into commodities themselves, now fetching a significant price.

Sylvie Fleury images courtesy of Sprueth Magers Gallery

Through her work, Fleury reshapes our desire for fashion objects by putting it under a microscope. Whether it's a bag or a pair of shoes, these items can be perceived as symbols of conspicuous consumption or a form of collecting behaviour. Fleury's chromed bronze fashion pieces, reminiscent of ancient empire monuments, serve as reminders of consumerist triumphs in the imperialistic world of fashion. By featuring opulent accessories like Chanel perfume, a Hermes bag, or those rounded-toed Prada heels from a different era, Fleury elevates these items to the status of art, effectively transforming them into monuments that celebrate fashion consumption as an art form in itself.

Sylvie Fleury images courtesy of Sprueth Magers Gallery

On the second floor, two monochromatic hard-edge paintings, one in mint and the other in lilac with metallic layers, frame a central space furnished with a pristine white carpet, a minimalist chair, and carefully scattered shoes. The shoes in question? Prada, Jacquemus, Tom Ford, and the modern-day equivalent of Manolo Blahniks, Margiela’s Tabi can all be deciphered. They've become the new icons of art and fashion, underscoring the shift in what we admire. The Tabi, in particular, has sparked discussion, with the "Tabi Swiper" making headlines for stealing both hearts and shoes. Thanks to him, Maison Margiela’s Tabi Mary Jane shoes have become the hottest product in town as sales continue to skyrocket.

Sylvie Fleury images courtesy of Sprueth Magers Gallery

This raises a question: who desires to own more, the Tabi Swiper or us, the eager consumers who long to possess and showcase these coveted items on social media, or those who truly want them for themselves? Instagram stands out as the most influential social media platform for triggering impulse purchases within the fashion industry, primarily due to its emphasis on the visual element, while playing a pivotal role in fashion promotion. It's a cycle: I see it - I want it - I buy it - I own it - I post it. That's the modus operandi today; it's as if you don't truly own clothing until you've posted it, marking the transition from consumer to owner. With this question in mind, I left Fleury's exhibition confused at the fashion industry's lack of either pleasure in purchase or critical thought (oh, remember the days when it used to have both). Thank god Sylvie Fleury's art continues to provide both.


Sprueth Magers Gallery

22 September — 4 November 2023



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