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A t-shirt imprinted with ‘Homage To The Square’ undoes homage and challenges the fashion world to reexamine the rules that govern its codes. The t-shirt features a logo of a square with the letters ‘HTS’ inserted in the middle. The numbers are intended to recall the location of the square in the top left corner of the painting. This is not the first t-shirt with this logo – it’s a product of a collaboration between the cult fashion brand COS and the artist Keith Haring.
A t-shirt that was supposed to pay tribute to a work by seminal Dutch graphic designer, Piet Mondriaan, has resulted in a legal battle, after a Mondriaan foundation claimed the garment had been badly copied. The piece, Homage to the Square (1930) is one of Mondriaan’s most famous paintings and features a grid of red and black squares. The original is currently housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while a replica is on display at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, where the t-shirt was on sale for €26 (£21.50). The Piet Mondriaan Foundation was not happy with the new garment and has sued the Amsterdam museum for using the design without permission.
Abstract art can often seem to mean nothing. But thanks to Josef Albers’ emphasis on colorful squares, there’s a lot to see here.
But it’s all for naught when Vestige, the clothing company that prints T-shirts featuring Albers’ famous Homage to the Square series, offers customers the chance to choose the colors themselves. Not only is this vulgarizing the artist’s work, but it reflects poorly on his estate who authorized it.
ARTnews reports that Vestige is allowing customers who purchase Albers-inspired T-shirts to freely remix the brand’s uniforms.
Not only the shapes, but also the colors. None of this makes sense to Albers.
The highlight of the series Homage to the Square begins with the following description: three or four squares of decreasing size, arranged one above the other, like little dolls in a box. All squares are painted with a light contrast. Hence the optical illusion that some squares move forward and others backward. The effect is due to both the subtle change of color and the different size of the squares.
Curiously, ARTnews, unaware of Vestige’s transgression, lightly notes how the combinations of small Albers squares vibrate against each other within large squares of different shades. But none of that happens in the hands of consumers who remix the colors and shapes carefully selected by the artist.
He pointed out that ARTnews was somewhat aware of this insult to Albers’ work and added a line to his report: But it’s impossible to do better than the artist himself.
Another shocking element of this story is that Vestige produced T-shirts in collaboration with the estate of Josef and Annie Albers. What was said on the estate reinforced the insults.
Vestige owners Kyle Derleth and Mark Dimusio told ARTnews that the Albers Foundation’s director of licensing, Lucy Swift Weber, was excited about the idea. How is this possible?
Derleth and Dimusio told ARTnews for themselves: We have been fans of Josef Albers for a long time. It’s amazing how his fans have allowed changes in his work.
Excellent care ?
To soften the impact of the announcement, ARTnews noted that great care had been taken to harmonize Albers’ colors, which customers were allowed to choose. Apparently the magazine doesn’t understand that. The artist was very particular about the specific color combinations he used. Free choice, even when using the palette, hardly lives up to its reputation for accuracy.
In connection with this clarification, a former student of Albers at Black Mountain College, Alexander Eliot, wrote in an Atlantic magazine article, Meet the Artists, that his teacher was a purist.
Albers made his students draw letters and numbers in parallel perspective, upside down, with a pencil clamped between their toes, in order to understand that control is freedom. It seems that Albers appreciates what Westij is doing with his project Honouring the Square?
Like ARTnews, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) is not too keen on Vestige allowing retailers to customize Albers’ colors, saying that the Albers Foundation is committed to preserving his achievements.
WWD also casually quotes t-shirt manufacturers as saying: At Vestige, we’re passionate about incorporating art into clothing, and we even quote Lucy Swift Weber who says that Vestige conveys the spirit of Josef Albers. Do these people get along?
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