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Rodarte: States of Matter Review

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All images via MOCA. There's been lots of buzz about MOCA Pacific Design Center's new exhibition Rodarte: States of Matter. We stopped in opening weekend to a quiet exhibition space featuring twenty garments –– nine black dresses on the first floor and the rest upstairs. It's a great chance to see the designs up close, with the Mulleavy sisters' whimsical but deliberate use of modest materials: delicately pleated netting, cheesecloth applied to look feathered, angora, and untraditional quilting on silk and vinyl.

The exhibition starts in a black-walled room with the unaltered costumes from Black Swan suspended on wires and positioned next to long spring 2010 black dresses. The tutus are indeed very beautiful, with their feathers, unfinished edges, and carefully selected and layered fabrics rotating slowly from ceiling-mounted wires. We gawked at the petite waists and legholes of the actresses' outfits. With black plastic flooring and three spotlights positioned underneath the garments, the effect was simple but effectively staged to show off the differences and similarities between the notions of fashion and costume.

Upstairs, though, the white-walled display is underwhelming. The installation is rather spare - eleven dresses to fill a big room? - and comprises three clusters of garments lit by haphazard piles of tube lighting, with their wires visibly taped to the floor. The fluorescence adds an industrial Dan-Flavin-knock-off edge, but physically, the lighting displays overwhelm the garments. Plus, as the major light source in the space, fluorescents are not ideal to showcase the intricate details and layers of the Mulleavys' designs, though there is one notable exception. The lights stutter on and off, putting visitors and the garments in momentary darkness and blacklight. In that darkened moment, the cluster of six white gossamer dresses from fall 2010 glow blue and look ghostly. It's just the kind of drama that suits Rodarte's dreamy, ethereally romantic creations.

But sadly, it was not quite enough to wow these fashion fans. Tutus are cool, but we'd have loved to see more garments packed into the loft-like space, and perhaps a broader trajectory of the designers' work since they launched the label in 2005 as a narrative guide through the exhibition. If you're on Robertson, with free admission it's worth a quick stop in, and you can pick up a "RADARTE" t-shirt or sweatshirt on your way out.

· Rodarte: States of Matter at MOCA [Official Site]